Modest Beckett carries Boston back to Fall Classic, aims to keep up playoff success one pitch at a time

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AP

Josh Beckett strikes out Casey Blake to end the seventh inning of ALCS Game 5 on Thursday. Erica Magda

By Mike Fitzpatrick

By MIKE FITZPATRICK

The Associated Press

BOSTON – Sitting at the postseason podium where he’s become such a staple, Josh Beckett glared at a room full of reporters Tuesday and grew increasingly annoyed with questions about his success.

The accolades, the analysis – he insists none of it matters this time of year. The only thing that counts is making one good pitch after another.

Maybe that’s why he owns October.

“He gets mad about outs that are hit hard,” Boston Red Sox teammate Kevin Youkilis said. “He’s a perfectionist.”

Indeed, Beckett has been nearly perfect this postseason. He is 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA in three starts, striking out 26 and walking one in 23 overpowering innings.

He’ll take those astounding numbers to the mound Wednesday night in the World Series opener against Colorado, which banged Beckett around Fenway Park in June and handed him his first loss after a 9-0 start.

Jeff Francis, enjoying an excellent postseason himself, will pitch for the Rockies.

“They’ve got some speed at the top, they’ve got their thumpers in the middle,” Beckett said. “They remind me a lot of an American League team. They can hit.”

All true, but so is this: If he shuts down the Rockies to help Boston win it all, 2007 will belong to Beckett in baseball lore. Think Kirby Puckett in 1991, Roberto Clemente in 1971, Sandy Koufax in ’65.

And this isn’t the first time the Texas fastballer has dominated under the spotlight.

He first earned his hard-nosed reputation as a cocky, 23-year-old kid in 2003, when Beckett capped a terrific postseason with a five-hit shutout at Yankee Stadium on only three days’ rest to clinch the World Series title for Florida.

Beckett took home MVP honors, just as he did in this year’s AL championship series after beating Cleveland twice.

He doesn’t get rattled by pressure. He embraces it. He just doesn’t want to talk about it much.

“Just trying to execute pitches,” Beckett said. “I’m not worried about any of the other stuff. It’s great if you win those awards. There’s about five other guys that could have won that award in the ALCS. We had one guy (Youkilis) hit .500 and hit three home runs, and somehow I came out with it.”

For good reason.

With his team trailing Cleveland 3-1 in the best-of-seven series and their scintillating season on the line, Beckett was at his best. He struck out 11 in eight innings of a 7-1 victory that sent the series back to Boston, where the Red Sox completed their comeback.

The right-hander is 5-2 with a 1.78 ERA in his postseason career – with three shutouts in eight starts.