BOSTON (AP)—Josh Beckett waited four years between postseason starts. When he got back on the mound, nothing much changed.
He’s still Mr. Zero when October rolls around.
The 2003 World Series MVP pitched his second consecutive postseason shutout Wednesday night, backed by a two-run homer from David Ortiz that helped the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 4-0 in their AL playoff opener.
Beckett retired 19 consecutive batters after a leadoff single, allowing just four hits to run his postseason scoreless streak to 18 innings. His three postseason shutouts tie Whitey Ford and Mordecai Brown for second on the career list, one behind Christy Mathewson.
“He’s a guy that wants to be great,” said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who came to Boston from the Marlins in the same trade as Beckett. “He doesn’t want to be pretty good. He wants to be the best guy that takes the mound. That’s what you want from your ace.”
It was Beckett’s first postseason appearance since blanking the New York Yankees on three days’ rest to clinch the ’03 Series for Florida. The last pitcher with consecutive postseason shutouts was current teammate Curt Schilling, who accomplished the feat with the Phillies in 1993 and Arizona in 2001.
“You don’t change a lot of things just because now you’re in the postseason,” Beckett said. “You do what made you successful to get here.”
The only 20-game winner in the majors this year, Beckett struck out eight and walked none to improve to 3-2 with a 1.74 ERA in the postseason. He threw 83 of his 108 pitches for strikes and started 21 of the last 23 batters with first-pitch strikes, including 15 in a row.
“He was throwing the ball better than he has at any point in the season. He was in control of himself,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “That was a great performance.”
Beckett has two shutouts in 166 regular-season starts—and three in six postseason starts. He became the first Boston pitcher to toss a postseason shutout since Luis Tiant beat Cincinnati 6-0 with a five-hitter in the opener of the 1975 World Series.
The victory was Boston’s seventh straight in the postseason over the California-Anaheim-Los Angeles Angels, having come back from a 3-1 deficit to win in the 1986 playoffs and then sweeping them in the 2004 best-of-five first round.
It was Ortiz who eliminated the Angels with a 10th-inning, series-ending homer in 2004. He hurt them again this year.
Kevin Youkilis homered in the first off Los Angeles ace John Lackey, then doubled with one out in the third. Ortiz, who needed a cortisone shot in his ailing right knee on Saturday, followed with his ninth postseason homer to make it 3-0.
“This is his time of year, too,” Youkilis said. “For David to come out and have a big hit is always good. Because when David’s confidence is high, this team succeeds.”
Lackey won 19 games in the regular season—second only to Beckett—but he couldn’t keep up on Wednesday. Lackey allowed four runs, nine hits and two walks, striking out four in six innings.
“With Beckett pitching that way, it’s going to be tough,” Lackey said. “You’ve got to hold down that kind of lineup with not getting much from your side.”
Indeed, Beckett was on top of his game—just like last time against the Yankees.
He gave up a leadoff single to Chone Figgins and then retired the next 19 batters. The 6-foot-5 right-hander allowed a single to Vladimir Guerrero with one out in the seventh and the crowd applauded politely, as if a no-hitter had been broken up.
Howie Kendrick singled in the seventh and Guerrero had another hit with two outs in the ninth. But Beckett got Garret Anderson to fly out to center field, and the Red Sox were celebrating another playoff victory over the Angels.
“Beckett was about as good as we’ve seen him,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “I don’t think you’re going to be able to pitch a much better game than that.”
Lackey had some October success of his own, winning Game 7 of the ’02 Series as a rookie to clinch the title for the Angels. But this right-handed Texan also had a more ominous history to live down: He is 1-7 against the Red Sox and 1-5 at Fenway Park, and on Wednesday his struggles continued.
After Ortiz’s homer in the third, Lackey walked Manny Ramirez and put him on second with a wild pitch before Lowell’s single made it 4-0.
Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera played on Boston’s 2004 World Series team. … Ramirez has hit safely in 20 of his last 21 postseason games. … The scoreboard showed a video of baseball highlights from the year, and the clip of Barry Bonds hitting his record 756th homer was booed. … Boston led the AL with 13 shutouts in the regular season. … L.A. is 0-4 in Game 1 of a division series. … Since winning their 2005 AL championship series opener against the Chicago White Sox, the Angels have lost five straight postseason games, totaling just eight runs and 24 hits. … Ortiz tied Jason Varitek for the franchise record in postseason homers.