Sat 18 Oct, 2008 04:00 pm
October 18, 2008
Francona Intent on Starting Beckett
By JACK CURRY
BOSTON " So Boston Red Sox Manager Terry Francona was not bluffing. Francona repeatedly said that he would start the wobbly Josh Beckett in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, even as questions mounted about whether Jon Lester would be the better choice.
Sure enough, about 16 hours after the Red Sox rallied from a seven-run deficit to shock the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-7, in Game 5 at Fenway Park, Beckett was in St. Petersburg, Fla., discussing his next assignment. Beckett explained that he was eager to extend Boston’s season Saturday night at Tropicana Field.
By sticking with Beckett, Francona has put the season on the line. The Red Sox trail, three games to two, in the best-of-seven series and must win the next two games if they want to return to the World Series for a second year in a row.
“He’s one of the best competitors in the game, so whatever he can give us, we’ll take and hopefully it’s good enough to win,” Francona said.
Francona has always said it is his job to start the players who give the Red Sox the best opportunity to win. Considering the way Beckett has performed in his two starts this postseason, there is some doubt about whether he is Francona’s best option. Lester is scheduled to start a potential Game 7.
Before Beckett strained his right oblique muscle in late September, he was viewed as one of the best postseason pitchers of his era. But Beckett has been trampled in nine and a third innings for 12 earned runs, 18 hits, 5 home runs and 5 walks, for an 11.57 earned run average. Opponents have hit .400 against him.
Although Beckett has said he is fine, he has lost some velocity off his fastball, which is averaging around 92 miles an hour. He has not been overpowering or fooling hitters, which is what usually makes him intimidating. He is a long way from the pitcher who went 4-0 with a 1.20 E.R.A. last season to help power Boston to a World Series championship.
Still, Beckett was his usual ornery self in discussing what the Red Sox had done and what they needed to do. They scored eight runs in the final three innings to fashion the second-greatest comeback in postseason history in a pulsating Game 5. To Beckett, those survival skills were old news.
“Well, we haven’t done anything yet,” he said. “I mean, last night was really, really special, one way or the other. But the big picture is still out there. We’re trying to do something better than what we did last night.”
Earlier this month, Francona said the Red Sox felt that the blossoming Lester could be like Beckett in the playoffs. With Beckett not himself, the next best thing for the Red Sox could be to let Lester replace him. During the season, Lester was 3-0 with an 0.90 E.R.A. against the Rays. If he were to start Game 6, he would be pitching on his regular rest.
Does Boston think the Rays can defeat Lester twice in six days? That does not seem as likely as their pounding Beckett for the second time in a week. Batters who have faced Beckett in October have an average that is 34 points better than Ty Cobb’s career average. But Beckett insisted he was ready.
“It’s really no different than any other start,” he said.
Actually, it is different. It could be Beckett’s last start of the season. It could also mean that Lester, who has been the Red Sox’ best pitcher for months, would not throw his next pitch until 2009.
Although Lester gave up four earned runs in five and two-thirds innings in Game 3, a 9-1 loss for the Red Sox, he did not allow an earned run in the 14 innings he pitched during the division series against the Angels.
Francona said that when Beckett was relaxed, healthy and executing his pitches, “there may not be a better pitcher in the game.”
“He’s not going to forget how to compete,” said Francona, who added that Beckett’s velocity might be down, but “that doesn’t mean he can’t dominate.”
Flip-flopping starters would have meant that Beckett would start Game 7, and all of the Boston pitchers would be on call if he were to falter. The more immediate goal is to force a Game 7.
By choosing Beckett over Lester, Francona is essentially saying that he believes Beckett gives Boston the best chance to win. But if Francona searched for the pitcher who was best equipped to stifle the Rays in Game 6, it probably would not be an exhaustive search.
I would so rather see a Phillies Redsox series.
SIxth inning Sox ahead.
It could be happening. Sunday is D-day.
excellent game, most of the fundamentals were observed. Unlike that Coco Crispy dude who thinks hes in a barroom brawl.