I wrote this on Wednesday the 13th. I was watching part of the St. Louis Cardinals-Cleveland Indians game and the Cards’ TV team reminded the world, that on May 13th, 1958, Stan Musial collected his 3,000th hit in a game at Wrigley Field (while any Musial fact is no doubt important, they had a lot of air time to fill as Corey Kluber was mowing down the Cardinals).
I started fooling around with the baseball history tool at todayinbaseballhistory.com. I saw that the 95th anniversary of Walter Johnson‘s 300th career victory was on Thursday. For a moment, I considered writing about that and looking at The Big Train’s career, but then felt that I wouldn’t have any personal connection to it and it would ring hollow as mere regurgitation of factoids and numbers. When I continued poking around in baseball history, I saw that today is Josh Beckett‘s 35th birthday.
Happy birthday to my favorite chicken-eatin’ and beer-guzzlin’ guy in the clubhouse!
Before joining the Boston Red Sox in 2007, I already liked the fiery righty from Spring, Texas. Remember that 2003 postseason? Remember how the Cubs and Red Sox were on the precipice of meeting in the World Series and potentially causing an event horizon? Yeah….I remember that; double heartbreak. Steve Bartman helped Josh Beckett – and A.J. Burnett and Dontrelle Willis – overcome the two-headed demon who guarded Wrigley that was Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.
Then, of course…well, there’s no other way to say this, so for the kids in the room, “Earmuffs!” Aaron F***in’ Boone happened. No, I’m not putting up a gif of that one. It still hurts too much (and I love Tim Wakefield too much), like an open-heart surgery scar. Oh right, Aaron F***in’ Boone has one of those.
The next few nights were so whiskey soaked, I’m not positively sure how I had energy to watch the World Series, but I did. Specifically a Series that most felt those despicable New York Yankees would win. Hail Satan, that team was good; a 101-61 record compiled by a bunch of jerks and the always lovable Jorge Posada. I mean, they outscored their opponents by 151 runs during the 2003 regular season. On the other hand, the Florida Marlins being in the playoffs, let alone the World Series, was surely some kind of sketch comedy. This does, however, bring us back to my main chicken-and-beer-man, Josh Beckett.
Beckett’s folk legend was cemented in that World Series by sinking the Yankees’ battleship. He won the decisive Game 6 in front of all those arrogant Bronx bandwagoners – I mean, who really roots for a team with that many championships? Even in a Game 3 loss to Mike Mussina – oh right, the other guy I don’t mind on that team – he pitched well enough to combine with his Game 6 complete game torpedo to the bow of the SS Bronx to win MVP honors for the Series. His dark, sweaty hair flopping out from under his hat as he waved it to the crowd atop his teammates’ shoulders.
Four years later, Beckett nearly earned himself a statue outside Fenway Park when he pitched another postseason complete game – this one an even more impressive shutout – in Game 1 of the 2007 ALDS. I couldn’t even feel bad for the Angels. Throwing 108 pitches unaided by chicken grease – I hear you get a better grip that way – Beckett allowed only 4 hits, while striking out 8. With 83 of those pitches going for strikes, it’s no surprise he didn’t walk a single batter. He had a Game Score of 87. I don’t think I really understood Game Scores back in 2007, but I understood dominance.
Dominance that night appeared in the lack of runners in scoring position. He allowed only two base runners past first base. All. Night. Long. Well, okay, long for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim-Disneyland; maybe not long enough for us Sox fans. I’ll fully admit, though, that I didn’t track the base runners past first while watching the game. The next day, I went into the record store I used to work at to chat with my old manager. He’s also a Red Sox fan. We would do water cooler talk about sports even when I didn’t work there. There was never a water cooler there, by the way, just this age old device called a faucet. Anyways, I remember him telling me, “Dude, Beckett was so dominant last night, that he only allowed two base runners past first the whole game!” Instinctively, Steve knew that I hadn’t realized it on my own. He taught me something new without degrading my lack of knowledge.
“Yeah, Chone Figgins made it to third in the top of the first inning and then Eric Aybar made it to second in the top of the eighth,” he said, further illuminating Beckett’s outstanding night. I did know that after allowing the lead-off hit to Figgins in the first, the beer kicked in and Beckett retired 19 straight. What neither one of us could tell me at the time was how much I would come to loathe Chone Figgins. That’s another story, though, isn’t it? Something else I didn’t realize at the time was that the game was all but won by the bottom of the third. After that complete waste of money J.D. Drew hit into an inning-ending double play, the Red Sox Win Probability never dipped below 89 percent for the rest of the game. The 2007 Red Sox postseason was off and rolling.
The Sox crushed the Angels, something they’ve grown accustomed to in 21st Century postseason play. Beckett then saved the Sox from elimination in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians and the Sox came off the ropes to knock the Indians out of contention for the next eight seasons.
Like in 2004, the ALCS was the real fun; the World Series was boring, if not for the fact that I was watching a team I love win it all. The Sox just smooshed the Colorado Rockies like a stink beetle. Again, Beckett got things rolling in Game 1 by ‘out-dueling’ Jeff Francis. They were firing on all cylinders and by the time “The Dragon Slayer” Josh Fogg was tasked with saving a drowning Rockies squad in Game 3, we could feel the parade route warming up already.
The 2004 Red Sox and all they did in the ALCS and then winning Boston’s first title in 86 years was magical. It lives in the minds of Sox fans as some kind of dream, maybe one you still sometimes suspect will turn cruel when you awake from it. The 2007 team and title felt more like a statement of territorial right. Josh Beckett was certainly one of the first guys on that team to plant the flag.
For that, Josh, despite the collapsing clubhouse culture and chemistry you and John Lackey propagated back in 2012, you deserve a very happy 35th birthday wish from this Sox fan.