HOUSTON - The Red Sox are facing a tall task, the likes of which they haven’t stared down since 2008. Win two games on the road in the American League Championship Series, go to the World Series. Lose one, go home.
Fortunately for Alex Cora’s club, it has their best guy, Nathan Eovaldi, offering the initial chance to swipe momentum away from the Astros in Friday’s Game 6. Is it a perfect scenario? Hardly. Just three days before he will have thrown 24 intense, ninth-inning pitches. But it is what it is, and what it represents is the Red Sox best chance to catapult to the coveted pair of wins at Minute Maid Park.
And if Eovaldi is looking for proof of what can be accomplished in a win-or-go-home, Game 6 on the road, he can let history be his guide. Thirteen years and three days before, Josh Beckett was that guy for the Red Sox in what was the time this organization face such a predicament.
Five innings. Two runs. 78 pitches. All with a torn intercostal muscle in his rib cage. And, at the end of the day, a Red Sox win, forcing Game 7 at Tropicana Field.
“The one I’m most proud is probably the five innings in Tampa,” Beckett told WEEI.com by phone, reflecting on his 13 career postseason starts. “That was my last start of the season, I hated to admit that. But there was no (expletive) way I could do that again, but knew I had to do that to get to the World Series. That was the one I’m most proud of.”
“That was the most painful start I ever had. I was throwing sidearm. It hurt so bad when I made a power move over the top. But I could sling the ball up there. My curveball was like 2-to-8. I don’t think I pitched all that bad. I was just trying to do what the starters are trying to do now, get as many outs as they can and here comes the cavalry. And, now the cavalry is good. These bullpens are (expletive) stupid. When I was playing baseball there was like a handful of guys who threw 100 mph. Now there are like 16 handfuls.”
The setting heading into those make-or-break ALCS games in St. Petersburg was far from ideal for the Red Sox. They had won Game 5 after falling into a 3-1 series hole against the Rays, but was forced to use an injured Beckett, who had just given up eight runs on one hits over 4 1/3 innings to Tampa Bay in Game 2.
But Beckett figured it out, offering the kind of results that will get Eovaldi plenty of atta-boys if he manages the same.
“The starter was going to either win or lose the game, and it was a lot easier to lose the game than it was to win the game,” Beckett reflected.
“It wasn’t just me but on that specific day it was Josh Beckett and the Red Sox. Yes, other people have to do some things to win the game, but I have to go and make sure I don’t lose the game. …. I watch baseball now and it’s not like watching when I was in the playoffs. You needed your starter to be good every time to win. Now, they will yank him out before they even get a chance. Tito wasn’t going to take me out. There was a reason I was starting that game and everybody else was in the bullpen. I was hurt in 2008, but he knew I was probably better than a lot of the other options to start the game. Tito is like, ‘You’re giving us our best option.’”
After giving up a run in the first inning on B.J. Upton’s solo homer, Beckett didn’t surrender a hit in any of the next three innings. Five years earlier, he had proclaimed, “Anybody could have pitched with my shit today,” after one his dominant postseason appearances for the Marlins. This bore no resemblance to that person or pitcher.
He had to improvise, using a pitch that he professes should be a staple for all postseason pitchers if possible.
“I had a great feel for my changeup, which I think is an unbelievable pitch in the playoffs because of how locked in guys where. It can (expletive) hitter up,” Beckett said. “You can’t adjust to speed that quickly, and they’r under a little more pressure. And they are are locked in.”
The Red Sox weren’t able to finish the job, losing Game 7 despite a solid seven innings from starter Jon Lester. But, even on an imperfect path, Beckett and Co. found a way to land with a chance all the way until the very last inning of what would be a seven-game series.
Beckett knows it’s a changed landscape for starters, who are performing under different circumstances. As he notes, “It was just different. Your day was like your day. I just feel like it’s different. It’s all hands on deck every day. I feel like the expectations for the starters are a lot lower. I feel like it’s very difficult for those guys to get into that mindset. To me, that was my day in the postseason.”
There is plenty, however, which Eovaldi can look back on and appreciate when it comes to paving the way for another opportunity for his Red Sox.
“I knew in the postseason we had to be extra locked in,” Beckett said. “The hitters are locked in. The umpires are locked in because they’re on national television. That’s how I took it. I have got to be extra locked in. I think it kind of played into my hands with my ADHD. It kind of forced me to do something I had trouble doing every start. But during the postseason my ADHD actually helped me funnel focus on each pitch. I know we always try to simplify things, but really when you get to the postseason it becomes that’s much more important to get that finite focus, looking at it as this pitch is the only thing that matters. All I can do is execute to the best of my ability, then it’s kind of out of your hands. I think it helped me during those times because of ADHD. My ADHD and that together really helped me get a pinpoint focus on that day.
“But that one back in 2008, I really had to be locked in on.”
Thirteen years later, the message remains the same.
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