With the Chicago Cubs set to clinch their first World Series trip in 58 years, Beckett buzzed Sammy Sosa in pitching a two-hitter and leading the Marlins to a 4-0 win Sunday in Game 5 of the NL championship series.
Even more notable: Beckett became the first pitcher to throw a postseason shutout against the Cubs since Babe Ruth did it for Boston in the 1918 World Series opener.
“We needed a good outing from a starter. I knew that going in. They had roughed us up pretty good,” Beckett said. “We needed to pitch better.”
“I had an idea we were going to go back home,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “Now we’re going back to our fans and our people, and it’s going to be exciting and electric.”
Despite nearly a century of failure in their past, the Cubs aren’t about to panic.
Mark Prior is set to start in Game 6 Tuesday night against Florida’s Carl Pavano. If he’s needed, fellow ace Kerry Wood would pitch Game 7 the next day as Chicago tries to reach the Series for the first time since 1945.
“We feel confident with those guys on the mound, especially after a loss,” Baker said.
Only three times in LCS history and five times in World Series play have teams come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven matchup.
The Marlins began their comeback behind Beckett, who struck out 11 in the first complete game of his 51 starts in the majors. He also tied the NLCS record for fewest hits allowed in a complete game.
Beckett’s signature moment came in the fourth, when he came close to Sosa. The tension wasn’t nearly as high as it was between the Yankees and Red Sox at Fenway Park in the ALCS a day earlier, but it had the ballpark buzzing.
“He overreacted a lot. I don’t know if he was trying to pull a Boston Red Sox-Yankee thing,” Beckett said. “It was pretty ignorant. I’m not trying to hit him.”
Beaned earlier this season, Sosa admitted he might have gotten too riled up.
“He probably wasn’t throwing at me,” he said. “But because of what happened before, maybe that was my reaction.”
The Cubs already had made arrangements with the Marlins to use champagne chilling in the Florida clubhouse for a celebration, if necessary. It wasn’t.
Florida had its bags packed for Chicago well before the game began. The Marlins looked for any edge to prolong the season, as evidenced by their Sunday morning chapel service at the stadium.
“It was a little more motivational than usual and we had a lot more people there,” team chaplain Chris Lane said.
Not that the Marlins needed any extra help with Beckett on the mound.
“Once again, it all starts with pitching,” Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. “When we get good pitching, we can be troublesome.”
At 23, the hard-throwing righty pitched the best game of his young career, allowing only two singles and a walk. He shut down a Cubs team that had totaled 33 runs in the first four games of the series.
Lowell hit a two-run homer in the fifth off Carlos Zambrano in the fifth, and Rodriguez and Conine later connected.
Lowell’s hit was just his third of the postseason. Injured for most of the final month, he came back to hit an 11th-inning homer that won Game 1.
When he batted in the eighth, Beckett drew a standing ovation from towel-waving Marlins fans in the crowd of 65,279.
Beckett allowed only one ball beyond the infield before the Cubs got their first hit, a soft single by Alex Gonzalez with two outs in the fifth. Moises Alou also singled in the seventh as hitters on both sides struggled in the twilight start.
A half-inning after Marlins rookie Miguel Cabrera was drilled in the left elbow by Zambrano, Beckett almost nailed Sosa.
Beckett’s first pitch in the fourth was a head-high heater to Sosa—tailing in toward him, too—that caused the slugger to duck and stumble backward. Sosa immediately sprang to his feet and took a couple of steps toward the mound, shouting and pointing his bat at Beckett.
“I was so surprised I had to shoot something else back at him. It was kind of baffling to me, really,” Beckett said.
Plate umpire Larry Poncino and Rodriguez, the Marlins catcher, quickly sealed off Sosa to prevent big trouble as a few Cubs rushed to the top step of the dugout.
Rodriguez patted Sosa on the back, trying to calm down his fellow All-Star while they stood several feet up the third-base line. While Rodriguez, Sosa and Poncino were sorting it out, Beckett calmly walked in from the mound and took a new ball from the umpire’s bag.
“I’m sure he wasn’t trying to do it,” Baker said.
When play resumed, Beckett threw a pair of 98 mph fastballs and eventually struck out Sosa looking at a changeup.
In late April, Sosa’s batting helmet was cracked when he was beaned by Pittsburgh’s Salomon Torres. Ever since, the Cubs have been especially sensitive to high-and-inside pitches to him.
Beckett retired Sosa on a grounder for the final out.
Tennis star Venus Williams threw out the first ball. Willis caught it, then dropped his glove while giving her a hug. As Williams was leaving, Sosa came up the dugout tunnel to meet her. … Cabrera batted cleanup for thesecond time this year. … Conine hit his first career postseason home run.