LOS ANGELES – Near the end of his reasonably delivered 6 2/3 innings Saturday on the first night of September, Josh Beckett left the Dodger Stadium field with a little half-wave. Maybe a salute of some sort. An "I see ya" for the people here who stood and applauded his first start in the home whites.
Beckett had struck out nine Arizona Diamondbacks. His fastball hung around at 92 mph, with which he wore out the outer half of the plate against right-handers. He seemed especially fond of his curveball ("My money," Beckett once described the pitch to catcher A.J. Ellis), which delivered three of those strikeouts, along with a sneaky good cut fastball.
Having seen a couple of National League lineups again, he may have noticed by now that this isn't exactly the American League East, Dodger Stadium isn't Fenway Park and, far as we know, no one's plotting to overthrow the manager. Life could be simpler in L.A., outside his 50-minute commute. Pitch to the big part of the ballpark, get the occasional gimme out when the nine hole comes around, feel the sun on his face every morning, then get carried from the field by voices of the folks who are trying – really trying – to believe.
"It's nice to be in the middle of it, especially come September," he said. "It's really cool to be in this clubhouse. It's fun."
[Video: Yankees looking over their shoulder]
Josh Beckett is 32 years old. One year ago on this date, his ERA, after 26 starts for the Boston Red Sox, was 2.54. He didn't have the huge fastball then, the one everyone talks about when they wonder what made Beckett a 6-13 pitcher from September of last season until the moment Ben Cherington insisted Beckett (and Carl Crawford) be part of a trade for Adrian Gonzalez. To the Red Sox, he'd become thirty-some million dollars they would rather not spend, and so the gateway to a whole new Red Sox way. To the Dodgers, he'd be a pitcher still holding to his prime on a two-plus-year deal who was better than most of what they already had.
Cherington hardly had to ask twice.
So, on a night the Dodgers, for their sanity, absolutely had to have a win, Beckett carried the ball well into the seventh inning. He allowed one run, on a fastball middle-in to Justin Upton, who hit it over the hedge that is the back wall of the Dodgers' bullpen. Otherwise, against an offense that was best in the National League in July and somewhere near worst in August, Beckett walked a single batter, forced an aggressive pace to the game, stayed in the middle of the park and took the gimme outs.
He is 1-1 with the Dodgers, having allowed four runs in 12 1/3 innings. Maybe he didn't have to get out of Boston, but maybe it's best he did, for everyone. For him, for the Red Sox, and now for the Dodgers, who are down a starter (Chad Billingsley) and from the mound don't scare folks much past Clayton Kershaw. His fresh start includes jersey No. 61, which he wore with the then-Florida Marlins when he broke in 11 years ago.
When he looks down and sees that number, no, he does not believe he is 22 again.
"I wish," he said. "If I look up, sideways or down, I don't feel 22."
So, it's different. But not so much so that he can't push a game into the late innings and then win it. The Dodgers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday, 2-1, not because of all the bats they acquired (though Hanley Ramirez did homer), but because Beckett made two runs stand up.
"I have the same stuff I had last year and it may have been the best year of my career," he said. "I can't miss out over the plate like I used to. And even some of those got hit pretty hard."
What he can do is play smart, pitch smart and enjoy the National League. He can scratch out a foothold on a mound he hadn't seen in seven years, stare in at hitters he's never seen, trust in a catcher he's never thrown to, and help push a team that had lost eight of 11 games at a time it was supposed to be far more capable.
"That's the plan," he said. "It's all about execution."
In the end, it won't be good enough for the East Coast baseball transplants to simply change addresses, uniforms and reputations. L.A. ain't Boston, but neither is it so merciful that it would stand for the same kind of slop that was going on there.
After a near-decade of the McCourts, the whole Boston thing could run thin again in L.A., and quick.
And while Gonzalez is hearing some boos as he bats .182 through eight games, and no one even has seen Crawford yet, Beckett had his first L.A. moment Saturday night and it couldn't have gone much better. It was only September first, but even that was significant given September last. It was only a little wave. Yes, he saw the people who stood and cheered and asked for more like it.
And they saw him.
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