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Beckett unfazed, virtually unhittable

Posted: Friday October 19, 2007 2:00AM; Updated: Friday October 19, 2007 3:20AM
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Josh Beckett was untouchable after a shaky first inning, striking out 11 in eight innings.
Josh Beckett was untouchable after a shaky first inning, striking out 11 in eight innings.
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CLEVELAND -- He barely even looked at them: at the screaming faithful in the stands, so ready to celebrate a World Series berth; at Kenny Lofton, yelling and circling the mound, looking ready to rumble; and no, not even at the pretty ex-girlfriend, sashaying across the infield just a few feet away before she stepped behind the mic to sing the national anthem.

Nothing would faze him on this night, and after it was over, Josh Beckett had added to his postseason legend. With his latest October masterpiece in Game 5 of the ALCS -- eight innings, one run, 11 Ks -- the new Mr. October improved to 5-2 with a 1.78 ERA in his postseason career. He has now won four straight postseason starts, during which he's allowed three runs in 32 innings. This October he has given up just one walk and three runs in 24 innings. The last man to strike out 11 in a postseason game? Beckett, in Game 5 of the 2003 NLCS against the Cubs.

After a shaky first inning, Beckett settled down, allowing just four baserunners, only one of whom reached third base. His 96 mph fastball hummed passed Indians hitters at their knees, his looping 12-to-6 curve was unhittable as ever.

"I thought he was up in the first inning," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "Once he settled down, started establishing that breaking ball, he became the guy, the dominant pitcher we rely on so much."

The Indians may have had no chance with Beckett in top form, but really, the game should have been a lot closer. Eric Wedge has done a terrific job this postseason with his bullpen management, but he made a mistake in bringing C.C. Sabathia, having already thrown 106 pitches, back in the top of the seventh. Sabathia was fortunate to have allowed just two runs in his first six innings. Wedge may have been fooled by Sabathia's work in the sixth, when he set the bottom of the Red Sox order down in order. Sabathia allowed a double to Dustin Pedroia and a triple to Kevin Youkilis to start the seventh. Everyone in the ballpark knew: with Beckett dealing, the game was over.

Wedge's defense: "C.C. pitched probably about as good as he pitched the prior inning. He was pretty efficient. If you go straight to [setup man Rafael] Betancourt, you're talking about Betancourt two innings down, and the way C.C. was throwing, it was not something I was interested in because it's going to weaken us over the weekend if everything remains the same [in the game]."

But it probably didn't matter in the end. Beckett, the ornery fireballin' Texan, was the baddest man in the ballpark, and even an hour after the game he still wore the cold stare he had all game. One reporter asked him how he felt about country singer Danielle Peck, an old flame of Beckett's, being invited to sing at Jacobs Field. "I don't get paid to make those [expletive] decisions," he snarled. "She's a friend of mine. That doesn't bother me at all. Thanks for flying one of my friends to the game so she could watch it for free."

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