Unreal. That's the only word to describe tonight, the Great Taco Debate included.
Beckett started things off with four straight strikeouts, and just getting three was an all-time team World Series first. That first inning was the finest pitching the hallowed halls of Fenway have seen since Pedro Martinez in his prime.
While most of the time I despise FOX (like when they subjected us to ERIC FREAKIN' BYRNES on the pregame show, as if Jeannie Zelasko wasn't enough, or when they BROKE OUT THE BUCKNER FOOTAGE (!!) between innings later on), I have to give them credit where credit is due. There are times Joe Buck's call really is pitch-perfect, and they know how to splice together a montage. After that first inning, for example, they had Josh's final three pitches to each hitter ready to roll, and Buck narrated a single word over each one: "One...two...three."
I noted with some nervousness that it was raining a bit during pregame introductions. As the innings wore on, the rain steadied, and they miced up the grounds crew guy (they miced up everybody tonight. The Bullpen Band, the head groundskeeper, Royce Clayton...), who told the umpiring crew chief that the rain would strengthen over the next half hour, and then pass.
Strengthen it did, gathering to a near-pour as Beckett kept pitching, surrendering a few hits and a run (two things which I had begun to think might not happen watching him in the first inning and a half). But as predicted, it did not delay or cancel the game, possibilities that had me reaching for the paper bag in the early innings, wondering if the Rockies had brought their spooky hauntedness along with them and were being smiled upon once again, this time by the weather. But the worst thing I had to fear basically throughout this entire game, as the Sox lineup hammered Rox pitching from the very first at-bat, was a rain delay that prevented Josh from coming back out to pitch or that canceled the start before it was official.
That was pretty much it. By the time the Sox had staked Beckett to three runs, I was sure the Rockies had no chance. And then it was four. Then six. Nine. Twelve.
Thirteen to one.
"Are we dead?" I asked Sam over IM. "Is this heaven?"
If you'd told me on Oct. 17, 2003 that four years later I'd be sitting here with the Sox leading the first game of their second World Series appearance by twelve runs...
Josh, once again, was master of his domain, king of all he surveyed, and completely and utterly in charge throughout his seven-inning appearance, rain and cold be damned. A few times he looked a bit more mortal than usual, but all in all hummed along in "legendary" mode through seven tour de force innings.
He used his curveball sparingly but with ruthless and devastating effectiveness. The nasty hook made two particularly spectacular appearances tonight, in the fourth and fifth innings.
In the top of the fourth, with one out and a man in scoring position, a 2-2 count on Garrett Atkins, and Tim McCarver pointing out that he'd only thrown two deuces, Beckett let fly with 77 mph filth. Atkins seemed to swing before it had even left the mound, for strike three.
Almost immediately, I was on the phone with my dad.
"See? It's like we were saying all last year, when he throws his curveball, he's incredible. He's gotta use the hook." Just as my dad said that, though, Beckett made quick work of Brad Hawpe with 95 at the knees.
"Or he can fire in that low heat," my dad added, chuckling incredulously. "You know. Whichever."
It echoed the one remotely amusing thing I think I've ever heard from Tim McCarver, in the first inning. McCarver's shining moment capped off a bunch of pointless blather about how Josh should've been pitching a particular hitter to hit the ball in the air, just as Beckett ripped off another untouchable heater on the inside corner for a called strike three. "Or..." for once, he had the good sense to correct himself. "...you could just throw a pitch like that one."
You can pretty much throw out any of your conventional, armchair wisdom about Josh Beckett from seasons past or even earlier this season. Right now, he's on an entirely new level.
The second glorious appearance of the curveball after the strikeout to Atkins in the fourth came with one out in the next inning. Actually, this time it was a pair of curveballs, to Yorvit Torrealba (!!) after strikes one and two with the fastball. Ball one dropped low and outside, in the dirt, but Torrealba buckled slightly. Josh came right back with the curve, this time on the inside corner, and it sent Torrealba bending over backwards, literally swaying from the knees as the umpire rung him up.
Now that was a pitch.
In a feature on the World Series in this week's SI, Tom Verducci reported the following:
Beckett is a horse of a starting pitcher. His work ethic is so strong that the Red Sox are sending their best two young starting pitchers, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, to Beckett's home in Texas this winter specifically to absorb and learn from his work habits and determination.
My first thought (after, "holy shit"), when I read that, was that it would make the best reality TV show ever. I can totally imagine Josh Beckett screaming like a drill sergeant over a vomiting apprentice, and in several different contexts. As Papel-blog put it, "What I am imagining right now is a combination of a college frat initiation gone terribly, terribly wrong, military boot camp and Bad News Bears, and it's WONDERFUL."
Beckett Boot Camp. "Just one camera. Even just one," Sam IMed me tonight. "It would be enough."
Sadly, that's nothing more than wishful thinking. But tonight, Josh may have given his proteges a sneak preview, in the form of the all-day-long country ass-whupping he visited on the Colorado Rockies.
Be afraid, boys. Be very afraid.