Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Josh Beckett has become this decade's John Smoltz. There is not a better big game pitcher in baseball right now than the Boston Red Sox right-hander, who showed everyone on Wednesday why he should be the AL's Cy Young winner when the award is announced next month.
Beckett added to his already impressive postseason resume in Game 1 of the American League Division Series last night, as he tossed the third playoff shutout of his career, holding the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to just four hits in his club's 4-0 win.
In his seven postseason appearances, spanning 51 2/3 innings, Beckett has pitched to a remarkable 1.74 earned run average.
"I was ahead of a lot of guys," said Beckett. "I just didn't want to get wrapped up in trying to strike a lot of guys out, because those are the at- bats that will end up killing your pitch count and you're out after 5 1/3 because you got 120 pitches. And as I said, I just stuck with pitch to pitch."
The 27-year-old hurler was masterful in his first postseason appearance since a magical 2003 run as World Series MVP in Florida's victory over the Yankees. He finished that series with a shutout in Game 6, and on Wednesday he struck out eight without allowing a walk, as he moved within one matching Christy Mathewson's record of four postseason shutouts.
Josh Beckett is money in big games.
"They're not similar," Beckett said of his last two shutouts. "They're similar because of the results. I don't think really anything else is similar. I think I got a lot of ground balls tonight; I got a lot of fly balls that night. It was a good game."
Beckett, who retired 19 straight batters at one point, is also just the seventh pitcher in major league history to throw a shutout in back-to-back postseason starts, and the first since Orel Hershiser in Game 7 of the 1988 National League Championship Series.
"From Day 1, when he was a rookie with the Marlins, I noticed that he was a guy that wants to be great," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who was Beckett's teammate in Florida. "He doesn't want to just be pretty good. He wants to be the best guy on that field the day he takes the mound. That's something you absolutely want from your ace."
It was Boston's first postseason shutout since Luis Tiant blanked the Reds in Game 1 of the 1975 World Series at Fenway Park.
"He went out there and executed his pitches, in my opinion, probably better than he has at any point in the season," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He attacked the strike zone with all of his pitches -- cut his fastball at times. He pounded the strike zone with three great pitches. They're very aggressive. We've been over that. He threw first-pitch strikes and kept it out over the middle of the plate. That was a great performance."
SAME OLD, SAME OLD FOR BIG PAPI
As Beckett seems to always rise to the occasion in a big spot, so does the offensive hero of the night for the Red Sox - designated hitter David Ortiz. Big Papi finished 2-for-3 in the victory with a home run and two RBI.
"I think I get prepared to play the game, and I'm the kind of guy that I try to give everything I have," said Ortiz. "I know this team counts on myself a lot, and a lot of guys count with me and watch how I do things. I take a lot of responsibility for whatever is happening around here."
Ortiz, who now has nine postseason home runs in his career, was also bowled over by his starter's performance.
"Man, let me tell you, you know like some of the innings I watched it on TV on the screen that we had downstairs," Ortiz added. "Even on TV he looked filthy. You know, even on TV you would be like, oh, he could have hit that. No, I don't think so. I mean, he was right on. That is the Beckett everybody knows that is capable to do things in the game."
GUERRERO GETS GOING
One of the few Angels that was able to put the ball in play on Beckett was DH Vladimir Guerrero, who finished 2-for-4. It's a good sign for the Halos, since Guerrero, who is battling a triceps injury, entered the series with a miserable .180 batting average in the postseason.
Guerrero was just 2-of-12 against Boston in the 2004 ALDS and was a dismal 1- for-20 in his last postseason appearance against the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 ALCS.
LACKEY'S FENWAY WOES CONTINUE
Trends are trends for a reason and unfortunately that was the case for Anaheim starter John Lackey on Wednesday. Lackey entered the game just 1-6 against the Red Sox with a 6.27 ERA in 11 starts. In Boston he was just 1-4 with a 7.46 ERA.
Lackey surrendered four runs and nine hits in six innings to get the loss on Wednesday.
GAME 2 ON FRIDAY AT FENWAY
All eyes on Friday will be on Japanese superstar Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA in his rookie season.
After the team spent over $100 million for his services, Matsuzaka responded with a wildly inconsistent campaign and faded down the stretch, winning just two of his final nine starts.
Matsuzaka did not face the Angels this season.
Los Angeles will counter with righty Kelvim Escobar, who had the best year of his career this season, posting a career-best 18 wins with a 3.40 ERA. However, Escobar was bothered by some shoulder issues late in the season, but had a strong start in his last outing of the regular season.
Escobar, who was rocked for three runs and five hits in just 3 1/3 innings of his ALDS start against the Red Sox in 2004, is 6-7 in his career against Boston with two saves and a 4.64 ERA in 36 games, 11 of which have been starts.