10/12/2003 9:38 PM ET
Beckett's heat dominates day
Marlins' ace makes history with two-hit shutout
Cubs tip their caps to Beckett
MIAMI -- It could have been a going-out wake for the Marlins. Instead, it was a coming-out party for Josh Beckett. It became his hump day.
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
Waylaid for two seasons by injuries, blisters and, yes, immaturity, the 23-year-old right-hander reached the peak he has strived for.
He turned Game 5 of the National League Championship Series into a personal statement couched in a victory that keeps Florida alive, and Chicago-bound, in this series.
"I've definitely always wanted to be the guy they tell, 'Here, here's the ball. Go do it,'" Beckett said.
After the sixth inning on a furnace-like South Florida afternoon, pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal and manager Jack McKeon approached Beckett on the bench.
Their message: "It's your game."
It indeed was.
The 4-0 two-hitter, the first complete game of his career in 51 starts, threw such an abrupt, convincing wrench into the Cubs' momentum, anything can happen now.
"It was big," said Beckett, as laid-back as he had been pumped on the mound only a half hour earlier. "We needed a good outing from a starter. I knew that going in.
"They'd roughed us up. We needed to pitch better. That's all there was to it."
Beckett pitched as well as anyone has in 35 years of NL Championship Series.
He matched the low-hit standard for an NLCS, accomplished only three prior times, none of which in the last 16 years. Cincinnati's Ross Grimsley (1972), the Mets' Jon Matlack (1973) and the Giants' Dave Dravecky (1987) had the only complete-game two-hitters.
With 11 strikeouts, Beckett also claimed the 13th double-digit strikeout game in NLCS history.
Put the two aspects together, and such supremacy has been rare in the NLCS. However, the Beckett factor extended beyond even that. He reached that rarest of airs for a pitcher, the sense that the other team needn't even bother.
"He was actually dominating," said Jeff Conine, one of three veterans who hit home runs in support. "There wasn't even a glimmer of hope on their side."
However, Beckett gave the Marlins, losers of three straight, an early glimmer of hope. Actually, it was more a floodlight of hope.
"It was big. We needed a good outing from a starter. I knew that going in. They'd roughed us up. We needed to pitch better. That's all there was to it."
-- Josh Beckett
He came out and worked a perfect first inning, the one in which Chicago had out-scored the Marlins 10-0 through four games.
"Just getting Kenny Lofton out was big," Juan Pierre said, citing the leadoff man who had torched each of those first-inning rallies. "There was a sigh of relief right there. He'd been a maniac on the bases. Just to get him out helped us out.
"Then to get a one-two-three inning ... he set the tone early, and carried it on for nine innings."
Through thick and thin and a sticky situation with Sammy Sosa.
A live crowd of 65,279 and a national television audience saw Beckett grow up right before its eyes in the fourth inning. His first pitch buzzed Sosa, head-high.
Sammy glared and yelled at a stunned Beckett.
"He overreacted, a lot. I don't know what else to say," Beckett said. "I was so surprised. It was kind of baffling to me.
Fewest hits allowed in shutouts in LCS history:
Jon Matlack, NY vs. CIN, 1973
Josh Beckett, FLA vs. CHI, 2003
Bob Forsch, STL vs. ATL, 1982
Dave Dravecky, SF vs. STL, 1987
Kevin Brown, SD vs. ATL, 1998
Mike Hampton, NY vs. STL, 2000
Randy Johnson, ARI vs. ATL, 2001
Roger Clemens, NY vs. SEA, 2000
Vida Blue, OAK vs. BAL, 1974
Dave McNally, BAL vs. MIN, 1969
Blue Moon Odom, OAK vs. DET, 1972
"It's even stupid that we had to go through that."
It wasn't Beckett's restrained reaction that made the biggest impression, but the pitches that followed. In Sosa's continuing at-bat, Beckett made seven total pitches, one of them hitting triple-digits and two others missing by only one mile.
Beckett later admitted to over-throwing after the exchange. Yet he still wound up striking out Sammy.
"Yeah, you get a little adrenaline going after something like that. But it's got to be controlled adrenaline," Beckett said. "I was fortunate enough to overthrow those pitches in locations where he couldn't hit them.
"You still have to make your pitches. He's one of the most dangerous hitters in the big leagues. I knew I had to keep executing my pitches."
The Cubs came close to scoring on Beckett only once, and that opportunity had nothing to do with the sparse times they got men on base.
Aramis Ramirez, who already has three home runs during this series, led off the fifth. It became another epic at-bat, this one enduring for 12 pitches, each dripped in drama considering this was still a scoreless game.
Ramirez pummeled one of those pitches into homer territory, but a few inches on the right -- for Beckett -- side of the foul pole.
"I thought it had a chance to go foul," said Beckett, who in fact recalled urging it aloud to do just that. "He hit it hard, but just foul enough."
Ramirez, too, ended up as a strikeout victim.
Nothing could break Beckett's spell. If there is a pitchers' equivalent of The Zone, he definitely was in it.
"Those outings are few and far between," he said, "where you can pick any pitch and throw it wherever you want. There aren't too many of those days. Ask most starters, and they'll say they'll have one of those once maybe every 10 times.
"I expect a lot of myself. Sometimes, things don't work out, for whatever reason. Right away, I felt I had good stuff and that everything was coming together. I threw a good bullpen, and took it from there."
He never lost his focus, or his stuff, and soon enough Sosa was grounding his 115th and final pitch to shortstop Alex Gonzalez for the final out.
It was time to exult -- and put those packed suitcases on the truck.
And to begin looking at Josh Beckett in a different light.
"He definitely gave us a little more confidence, the way he was throwing the first couple of innings," said Conine, blown away by the kind of postseason dominance he had just witnessed from someone so young.
"He told me he graduated from high school in 1998," Conine said. "I just about fell over."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.