Rout 1 Goes Through Boston

Josh Beckett
Josh Beckett struck out the first four batters he faced, finished with nine strike outs, and walked off the mound in the seventh inning to a standing ovation. (Kathy Willens - AP)
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2007

BOSTON, Oct. 24 -- The first batter of the first inning of the first game of the 103rd World Series, Willy Taveras of the Colorado Rockies, stepped into the batter's box at Fenway Park at 8:37 p.m. and took a 96-mph fastball for strike one from Boston Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett. The camera flashes of amateur documentarians winked from every nook of the old stadium, and a light rain fell out of a cool, windy sky, and it was the last moment in which Game 1 of the World Series was competitive.

Beckett, the heartless gunslinger who has been unbeatable this fall, struck out the side in the first, then walked away from the carnage with cold disdain. The Red Sox scored three runs in the bottom half of the inning, the opening blows in what became a shockingly easy, stunningly thorough 13-1 blowout of the Rockies in front of 36,733 giddy fans at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox, brutally efficient in the way they have steamrollered opponents of late, have now outscored the competition by an aggregate of 43-6 in their past four games, including three straight wins over the Cleveland Indians to close out of the American League Championship Series, and altogether they have outscored opponents by a 83-37 margin this postseason.

History says the Series is not necessarily over -- in 1996, for instance, the Atlanta Braves spanked the New York Yankees in the opener, 12-1, but still lost in six games -- but the Red Sox could not have made a more definitive statement about their assumed title worthiness than the one they made Wednesday night.

As for the Rockies -- who soared into the World Series on an unprecedented run of 20 wins in their previous 21 games -- well, some of the acts they performed Wednesday night qualify as atrocities against the game.

Did the champions of the National League just issue back-to-back walks to the Nos. 8 and 9 batters with the bases loaded? Did their ace, Jeff Francis, really require 103 pitches to complete four innings? Did one of their relief pitchers, right-hander Ryan Speier, just throw only four measly strikes among his 16 total pitches? Did they just allow the Red Sox to score seven consecutive two-out runs in the seventh inning?

"That," Manager Clint Hurdle said, "is not the way we drew it up."

The easy explanation for the Rockies' underperformance is that they were rusty after eight full days without a game, their reward/punishment for sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Championship Series. But that hardly explains the sheer dominance of the Red Sox on a night when the dichotomy between what makes a champion in the AL -- winners of the last 10 all-star games and six of the past nine World Series -- and the NL could not have been more stark.

At times, Beckett was more hittable -- and hard-hittable -- than he had been in his recent starts. The Rockies banged three doubles off the Green Monster in left in the first four innings, scored a run -- a run! -- off Beckett in the second, and drew a walk -- a walk! -- in the fifth. After the walk, by Ryan Spilborghs, someone should have stopped the game and given him the ball as a memento, as it was only the second walk Beckett has allowed all postseason, against a staggering 35 strikeouts.

Beckett, now 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA this postseason, struck out the first four batters he faced, finished with nine punch-outs, and walked off the mound in the seventh inning to a standing ovation -- the informed crowd fully aware, without having to be told, that it would be Beckett's final inning. In typically understated fashion, he lifted his right hand to his cap, doffed it gently, but never looked up.

"I just executed enough pitches," he said, "to survive tonight."

After striking out the side in the first, Beckett barely had time to grab a sip of water from the cooler, wrap his arm in a warm-up jacket and take a seat on the Red Sox' bench before Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox' rookie leadoff hitter, bashed Francis's second pitch of the game high and deep to left-center, where it barely cleared the top of the Green Monster -- a home run.

Francis may have been able to coax swings out of his marginal pitches from the Philadelphia Phillies and Diamondbacks in his first two postseason starts, both wins, but these were the Red Sox -- as patient as they are powerful, as content to take pitches, draw walks and drive up a pitcher's pitch count as to hack away and crush home runs.

"We're trying to wear guys down," Pedroia said. "I don't think anybody took an at-bat off all night. Everybody was trying to get good pitches to hit, and if they didn't they took them."

Francis, who gave up 10 hits and six earned runs in only four innings, became the third straight ace to crumble in the face of the Red Sox' relentless offensive onslaught in a Game 1 start, joining John Lackey of the Los Angeles Angels in the Division Series and C.C. Sabathia of the Indians in the ALCS. The Red Sox churned out eight doubles in the game -- a World Series record -- five of them against Francis.

But clearly, Francis wasn't the problem, or else reliever Franklin Morales would not have failed to make it through the critical fifth inning, running into problems with two outs as six straight Red Sox hitters reached base against him. And then things got out of hand, as Speier, a Springfield native, entered with the bases loaded, faced three batters, and walked them all.

The rest of the night, and well into the morning to be sure, was nothing short of a victory party in Boston. Game 1 was well in hand, the rain was beginning to let up and another utterly defeated opponent was ready to slink off the Fenway Park turf, the Red Sox' dominance intact and complete.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company