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Says Beckett, when asked about facing other teams' aces, "Nobody wants it more than me."
Beckett's personality calls to mind coarse sandpaper on a blackboard. Most of the time he could strip paint with his mug alone. Such a nasty streak serves Beckett well in his attention to his work. He takes his between-starts bullpen sessions so seriously, for instance, that he cranks his fastball into the mid-90s even then. And the Red Sox so admire his work ethic that manager Terry Francona has arranged to send the club's top two young starting pitchers, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, to Beckett's Cotulla, Texas, home this winter to observe his workouts and model themselves after the young ace.
Though Beckett threw 109 pitches in Game 5, and though he has thrown a career-high 2232/3 innings, he told Francona he would pitch whenever he might be needed in Game 7. (If closer Jonathan Papelbon had been brought in in the seventh inning, Francona had Beckett lined up to close.) A 20-game winner, Beckett is peaking in October: a 3--0 record and a 1.17 ERA, with 26 strikeouts and only one walk in 23 innings. "If you could pick one guy—-among anybody in baseball—to start against a hot club like Colorado," Epstein says, "it would be Josh. Easy."
Not only must the Rockies see Beckett twice in the first five games, but they must also deal with the now-serendipitous culture of Fenway Park. After a history rooted in an expectation of doom, Red Sox Nation has gained Most Favored Nation status. Beginning with Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, Boston is 9--2 in postseason games at Fenway. Not since 1918 have Red Sox fans found themselves back in the World Series after a wait of only three years.
"They need to come up with a new definition of home field advantage to include the electricity generated at Fenway," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino says. "There's nothing like it. Certainly the younger generation of fans has come to expect good things, but we like to think we're retraining even the older fans about how they think about the Red Sox."
Said Indians third baseman Casey Blake after Game 7, "Sometimes you just can't stop those guys. You catch up to them, and they just take off again. It's such a deep lineup, especially in this park. One guy after another gives you quality at bats. Even [Dustin] Pedroia showed a little guy can come up and knock one out of the park."
Pedroia, generously listed at 5'9", salted away the clincher with a seventh-inning two-run bomb off the previously unsolvable Rafael Betancourt. This postseason the Red Sox are 5--1 at Fenway, while hitting .304, scoring seven runs per game and having nearly every carom, hop and bounce go their way.
Like Boston (56--31 at Fenway, postseason included), Colorado (54--31 at Coors) enjoys a decided advantage in its home park. And the Sox' game doesn't translate well to expansive Coors Field and the altitude. Among the Sox' concerns this weekend, when the Series shifts to Colorado, are leftfielder Manny Ramirez's having to patrol a much bigger area than at Fenway, fourth starter Tim Wakefield's becoming nearly useless because the thin air reduces movement on his knuckleball, and DH David Ortiz's having to play first base under NL rules, which will push hot-hitting Kevin Youkilis (.425, four homers in only 40 playoff at bats) to the bench.
Boston, though, does have the home field advantage and the hottest pitcher in the postseason, not to mention a swagger that comes from winning three elimination games while the Rockies were idle.
AFTER THE clincher, the hot-hitting Pedroia dashed into Francona's office to grab one of the manager's AL championship caps off his desk.