Red Sox Confident In Beckett

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 18, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Oct. 17 -- The Boston Red Sox acknowledge, even if Josh Beckett won't, that their onetime ace is pitching with diminished physical ability this October. But that makes them no less confident sending him to the mound in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night, and there appears to have been no thought given to starting anyone else.

"He's not going to forget how to compete," Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said of Beckett. "So even if he's going out there with maybe close to what he [usually has] -- maybe it's not 96 [mph], maybe it's 92 [or] 93 -- but he's still Beckett, and that doesn't mean he can't win. That doesn't mean he can't dominate."

The Red Sox could have moved up lefty Jon Lester (on full rest) for the Game 6 start -- instead of Beckett, who has been dealing with a strained oblique muscle suffered late in the season -- and turned a potential Game 7 into an all-hands-on-deck extravaganza. But needing to win both games, it was clear their best hope remained a Beckett-Lester duo.

"The one thing we try not to do -- and this is a very difficult situation for any athlete -- is try not to focus on the result," Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said. "If Josh focuses on executing his pitches, he'll arrive at the desired outcome."

For his part, Beckett will say little about his health, other than to say he feels fine. Asked Friday, before the Red Sox' workout at Tropicana Field, whether the oblique injury has forced him to pitch differently, he said, "No." Is he the same pitcher, same guy? "Same," Beckett said.

Rested and Ready

One byproduct of the Rays' decision to flip lefty Scott Kazmir ahead of right-hander James Shields in their rotation prior to Game 5 is that Shields, the Rays' ace, will be making his start in Game 6 on seven days' rest, instead of five. Rays Manager Joe Maddon is looking at that as a positive.

"Actually, I like him getting a little extra rest right now," Maddon said. "He's exceeded his number of innings [from 2007 to 2008] by a bit. . . . I think the velocity is going to be there, and he's going to be fine."

For his career, Shields is 4-4 with a 4.54 ERA on six or more days' rest, compared to 28-20 with a 3.88 ERA at all other times.

More Crisp Than Before

The Red Sox quietly appear to have made a semi-permanent change to their starting lineup, with veteran Coco Crisp replacing Jacoby Ellsbury in center field -- in much the same way Ellsbury supplanted Crisp last October.

"It's kind of weird sometimes the way things work out," Francona said. "We've tried to keep both of them sharp, and they have both helped us win a lot of ballgames."

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