LOS ANGELES – We interrupt the inevitable and inglorious end to Josh Beckett's career – which was to arrive shortly after he and his salary were dumped on the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his ERA swelled to five, and his velocity tumbled, and his hand went numb, and he groaned into his mid-30s – for the vision of his teammates dog-piling him on a mound in Philadelphia.
For the nine starts that have him with the 10th-lowest ERA in the National League and the eighth-lowest WHIP.
For the curveball that is among the most effective in the game.
For the 94-mph fastball on pitch 128.
For a curtain call at Dodger Stadium, 2,400 miles from the site of Beckett's no-hitter the day before.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Josh Beckett," went the introduction, and the people applauded the veteran pitcher they hardly know beyond being surprised a while back to learn he'd be in the rotation.
Beckett came up the dugout steps and raised his cap and, well, imagine that.
"It's still surreal," he said. "Especially when you get to this point in your career. I figured the days of possibly throwing a no-hitter were behind me."
Up until early April, maybe March for those who were hanging around Glendale, Ariz., you'd have gotten a good debate on which was more broken down: Beckett's body, his reputation or his career. The money, the attitude, the results – two summers ago the Boston Red Sox had thrown them all in. The culture change in the Back Bay started with the trade of Beckett and the others. And Beckett had done little for the Dodgers but thin the spread and chew up DL time.
He'd be 34 in May. He was recovering from surgery to remove a rib and relieve thoracic outlet syndrome. It had been three seasons since Beckett had been even a good pitcher. The Dodgers were loaded anyway.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking it might be over," he said.
If you had to pick a single day to experience over and over, you could do worse than to live it as a starting pitcher's day after. Win a ballgame, sleep sound, drive to the ballpark, dig yourself for a few hours, sort of watch some baseball, allow yourself to be happy with the world.
That's a day.
Beckett would wear sunglasses on his day-after. He'd watch Hyun-Jin Ryu pitch into the eighth inning with a perfect game. After those career-high 128 pitches, he'd say his body felt the same as it did after any start.
"Pretty normal," he said. "Like I got hit by a truck."
He's funny like that.
When reporters started showing up wondering why he was good again, Beckett would grin and muse, "Why would they want to talk to an old guy missing a rib?"
Because batters were hitting a little more than .100 against his curveball. Maybe he wasn't that Josh Beckett, the Josh Beckett with the ferocious fastball, but he was well into the 90s again, and pitching into the seventh inning again, and winning again. Instead of fading away, Beckett, who'd had a good career and had his moments of greatness, was contributing again.
"Special just to have a guy that's done so much in his career to get this one final check mark," Clayton Kershaw said. "It's not why we play the game, for these individual things, but you're happy for the guy.
"Things do pass us by, but even when he couldn't feel his fingers … his stuff was still there."
So he left the bullpen for his Sunday afternoon start, and left his teammates with his usual instructions: "OK guys, all I need is 10 runs and airtight defense. I'll take care of the rest." They smiled, scored six runs instead, made a few plays, and otherwise watched Beckett, for an afternoon, become something like masterful.
After 127 pitches, at least one pitch from the 283rd no-hitter ever and one no one saw coming, a full count to Chase Utley, Beckett asked to speak with catcher Drew Butera one final time.
On the mound, Beckett asked Butera what the next pitch, maybe the final pitch, should be.
"You've got two options," Butera told him. "Curveball down and away or fastball down and away."
"Fastball," he said.
It's a little weird around the Dodgers these days. In the postgame celebration, catcher A.J. Ellis ran to join the mob, jumped into the fray and landed on Butera's discarded mask. The result was a sprained ankle and a return to the disabled list. Matt Kemp has sat out four games while manager Don Mattingly encourages him to take up left field, and appears to be pouting through the transition. "It is what it is," Kemp said Monday. Asked if he thought he was being treated unfairly, Kemp answered, "No," then added, "Doesn't matter what I think. I just want to go out and play baseball." Hanley Ramirez has a calf strain and hasn't played since Friday, and the new kid, Erisbel Arruebarrena, has been flawless at shortstop, and Mattingly continues to push defense above all else, and two trouble areas were center field and shortstop.
"It was just costing us too much," Mattingly said. "I know it's not sexy to talk about defense. …The pitching is that good. We've got to be able to catch the ball for them."
In the middle of it all, and mostly they're trying to figure out why they're just so mediocre, along comes the rebirth of Josh Beckett, too, and a pile of Dodgers on somebody else's infield, the old worn-out guy without a rib at the center of a really good time.
The end, clearly, would have to wait.
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- Josh Beckett