LONG BEFORE JOSH BECKETT WAS named MVP of the 2007 American League Championship Series, the good people of Spring, Texas, already knew their native son could snare the big game. In 2002 Beckett bagged one of the largest deer in Texas (a 208-pound 14-pointer).
Beckett further solidified his big-game reputation with his performance against the Indians. He mowed down 11 batters in Game 5 of the ALCS to save the Red Sox from being eliminated by Cleveland, which held a 3-1 lead in the series.
That the Red Sox even faced elimination seemed unfathomable after Beckett's performance in Game 1, on Oct. 12. After allowing a first—inning home run to Cleveland DH Travis Hafner, Beckett retired the next 10 batters. Indians hitters didn't reach base again until the fifth inning, when Beckett hit first baseman Ryan Garko, but by then the Red Sox' offense had put them ahead 5-1. While Beckett applied pressure to Cleveland's offense, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz tortured the Tribe's defense and its ace C.C. Sabathia by reaching base 10 times in 10 plate appearances. The Indians looked overmatched in the 10-3 loss.
But with Beckett on the bench for the next three games, the Indians used his days of rest to regain control of the series. In Game 2 Cleveland attacked Boston's bullpen, scoring a postseason-record seven runs in the 11th inning to turn a taut game into a 13-6 blowout and take a 1-1 series back to Jacobs Field.
While in Cleveland, Red Sox hitters struggled against Jake Westbrook in a 4-2 Game 3 defeat. They looked equally listless in Game 4 against Paul Byrd and his old-school windup, falling 7-3. The Indians smelled blood. "We want to put them away here," Byrd said, referring to Game 5, Cleveland's last at home.
But the 27-year-old Beckett had been in this situation before. With the Florida Marlins in '03 Beckett pitched a two-hitter in Game 5 of the NLCS against the Cubs to enable his team's climb from a 3-1 hole to the league championship, and then he shut out the Yankees in Game 6 of the World Series.
The only 20-game winner in the majors in '07, Beckett was acquired by the Red Sox in a seven-player trade (which included Mike Lowell) in November '05. In his first season in Boston, Beckett struggled to a 16-11 record, but Red Sox management had faith in him, giving him a three-year contract extension in July '06. It's fair to say that their faith has been rewarded.
"He's got something others don't have," says-Lowell. "There is a different feel for us when he takes the mound." The Red Sox held on to that feeling for the final three games, outscoring Cleveland 30-5 to advance to the World Series.
"It all starts with Josh," said Curt Schilling, Boston's No. 2 and a big-gamer himself.
Starting with Beckett, as the Red Sox planned to do in Game 1 of the World Series, meant that the red-hot Rockies were next in this big-game hunter's line of fire.