Every time I'm at the ballpark when Josh Beckett is pitching, I hear the same thing. "It's like it happens too fast." Blink and you'll miss it, the ball from Beckett's hand to the plate.
Actually, scratch that - watch intently, and you still may miss it. At least once a game, I hear this complaint from over my shoulder. "It's too fast."
To watch Josh Beckett pitch in person is for your eyes to receive information your brain rejects as preposterous - the image of a human being conveying a ball over 60 feet to his catcher's mitt in the same time it would take most mortals to simply place it into the glove.
Except in photos, where it sometimes appears as a white blur, the ball is virtually invisible. You can tell when it's a curveball because the batter swings from his heels and misses, instead of standing there slackjawed, like he does with the two-seamer. When you think you've finally spotted the fastball, you realize, that was a change-up. Which is the only reason, sitting there with no instant replay and no slow-motion, you saw it at all.
"Too fast" also went for the whole game, which for the first four innings was as taut a pitchers' duel as you could ask for, the most brilliantly pitched game I've seen since Schilling vs. Glavine almost exactly three years ago. The batters on both sides stood in and were returned to the bench like clockwork.
It was the eighth inning before I looked up at Josh's pitch count, and was astonished to find he had only 83. Before I could say "he could go nine," Sweet Caroline was playing.
Derek Lowe, in his first return to Fenway Park in a visitors' uniform, was cheered when he first took the field for warm-ups, and when he first took the mound for Atlanta, and was given a standing ovation as he left the field. He was only slightly less perfect, surrendering three over six, a quality start, but not enough to win with the monster on the mound for the Sox.
The Boston lineup began to chip away at Derek the second time through, manufacturing a tidy run at a time, while Beckett began to pull away on this second lap, liberally mixing a devastating mid-70's curveball in with a fastball that grew more powerful the longer the game went on.
Derek had been respectable, but the batters on his side of the scoreboard were brutally silenced. Quiet, businesslike and quick.
Not a lot of show from Josh, in his first regular-season complete-game shutout while wearing a Boston uniform. At times he bared his teeth as he reached back for an out pitch, but otherwise his only gesture was to ask for a new baseball. He had about him the atmosphere of predatory calm we saw from him in the playoffs two years ago, that nothing-personal deadpan glare in at the plate, like a hitman with a bounty in his sights.