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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

Red Sox Find Their Way Home

Josh Beckett
Josh Beckett allows only five hits in eight innings, strikes out 11, walks one and is near the plate with almost every one of his 109 pitches. (Brian Snyder - Reuters)

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By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 19, 2007

CLEVELAND, Oct. 18 -- Josh Beckett was the big, hairy alpha male of Jacobs Field on Thursday night, standing on the dirt hill at the center of the diamond and daring anyone to come knock him off. He roared at lesser beasts who dared cross his path. He stalked his territory, slow and assured, the baddest man in the house. That anthem singer, pretty and sweet-voiced? Beckett used to date her. As she sang Thursday night, he never even looked at her.

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Game 5 of the American League Championship Series was to have belonged to the city of Cleveland and their beloved Indians, and 44,588 fans packed into the stadium hoping to witness the clinching of the pennant. But instead, the night belonged to the Boston Red Sox and to Beckett, their great, rough beast of a pitcher.

With his team facing elimination, Beckett delivered eight overpowering innings, and the Red Sox sent the series back to Boston with a 7-1 victory. Game 6 will be Saturday night at Fenway Park, with the Indians still leading the series by a game. Cleveland's Fausto Carmona will face Boston's Curt Schilling in a rematch of Game 2.

"We're inching closer to where we want to be," Beckett said. "The motto in our clubhouse right now is, 'It's better to die on your feet than live on your knees.' "

For the second time this series, Beckett was twice the pitcher his esteemed Indians counterpart was. Beckett and C.C. Sabathia were the two best pitchers in their league this season, but Beckett dominated their matchup in Game 1, and he did so again Thursday night. Sabathia pitched into the seventh inning, but allowed 10 hits and four earned runs.

Ahead 7-1, the Red Sox sent Beckett back to the mound in the eighth, rather than turn the game over to the bullpen, and Beckett breezed through another 1-2-3 inning, his 109th pitch becoming the 24th and final out he would secure. Jonathan Papelbon pitched a scoreless ninth.

"It's fun to go out there and play behind a guy who can dominate a game," said Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who tripled and homered off Sabathia. "You can see [catcher Jason] Varitek set up off the dish and [Beckett] hits the corner, and guys are taking because they just can't see it that well."

Had the Red Sox been allowed to select any pitcher from any of the 30 rosters in baseball to start Game 5, they probably would have taken Beckett. (Why not Johan Santana, you might ask? Well, other than his 0-5 record against Cleveland this season, no reason.) Beckett is the only pitcher in the majors to win 20 games in either of the past two seasons, and his postseason record (5-2, 1.78 ERA) is unparalleled for someone his age.

The last time Beckett took the mound in a postseason series with his team in a giant hole, for the Florida Marlins in Game 5 of the 2003 NLCS, he threw a two-hit, 11-strikeout shutout against the Chicago Cubs -- then came back in Game 7 (on two days' rest) and threw four more dominant innings to help lock down the pennant.

Might Beckett do the same thing again in a potential Game 7 at Fenway Park? At this point, Game 7 for the Red Sox belongs to wayward right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, so anything seems possible.

"Obviously, I'm preparing myself for them to ask me that," Beckett said. "And right now, yeah, I think it's something I could do."

Beckett was at his ornery, intimidating best in the fifth inning. Indians left fielder Kenny Lofton took a 3-0 pitch and dropped his bat, thinking Beckett had thrown ball four, and was about to jog to first base when the pitch was called a strike. As Lofton disgustedly picked up his bat, Beckett stood on the mound and smirked. And when, on the next pitch, Lofton flied out softly to left, Beckett yelled something at him. Lofton, still holding his bat, yelled something back, and continued yelling as he circled in front of the mound on his way back to the dugout.

When Lofton took a step toward Beckett, players came spilling out of both dugouts and bullpens. Terry Francona, the Red Sox' manager, went straight for his pitcher, steering Beckett away from the center of the storm. There were no ejections, and play was resumed momentarily. Afterward, Beckett alluded to a history of bad blood between him and Lofton, but did not elaborate.

Country singer Danielle Peck, a former Beckett flame, had barely finished singing the national anthem when Youkilis pounced on a 1-0 pitch from Sabathia and sent it over the wall for a homer.

Later in the inning, the game had its requisite Manny Moment. One day after assuring all of New England that, should the Red Sox lose, it would not spell the end of the world, Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez appeared to be backing up his verbal nonchalance with action. He failed to slide at home plate as he tried to score on Mike Lowell's single in the first inning, getting himself easily tagged out.

The next time Ramirez came to the plate, he smashed a ball to right-center field, which appeared to hit the yellow line atop the fence and bounce back into play -- a live ball. Ramirez, however, merely trotted down the line and argued that the ball should have been ruled a home run.

For the Red Sox, the key to the Ramirez at-bat was David Ortiz's hustle, not Ramirez's lack of it. With two outs, Ortiz was running hard from first base, and while everyone else was trying to figure out what was going on, he scored easily without a throw, giving Beckett a 2-1 lead.

That was all the lead Beckett needed. The additional support was welcome, but unnecessary. All Beckett really needed was the ball, the mound and some lesser rivals to dominate. The night, the game and all the spoils belonged to him.


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