Day 4: Marlins | Extra Innings
JUPITER, Fla. – Four months later, the momentous memories of that evening remain fresh. Josh Beckett pitching in New York, pitching in the Stadium, pitching into history – a five-hit shutout that closed down the vaunted Yankees, closed out of the World Series and turned a 23-year-old Texan into a baseball megastar.
The pitching performance will go among the greatest in Series history, shoving Beckett into the rarified air of Bob Gibson, Jack Morris, Bret Saberhagen and even Don Larsen. It also set the right-hander into a wild offseason where he was stopped in airports by fans, toured the White House and wound up on the Jay Leno and Craig Kilborn shows.
"I actually still talk to Kilborn every once in a while on the phone and he's always teasing me, World Series MVP is over, man, it's over,' " Beckett said. "And it is. We have to move on [because] 2004 is a new season."
That was the theme of Beckett's comments on Wednesday at Florida Marlins camp here on the edge of the South Florida sprawl. What's won is won and what's done is done.
No doubt last year was awesome. But it isn't going to get a batter out this year. And, oh by the way, the Marlins are picked by many to finish behind the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves in the NL East.
"I don't give a [expletive]," Beckett said. "We still have to go out and play those teams. We still have 19 games against each of those teams and that will decide that."
This is exactly what the rest of the National League didn't need, a bunch of preseason prognosticators disrespecting the Marlins. The best thing that could have happened to the league was for Beckett and his teammates to get fat and sassy and start thinking the division was going to be handed to them.
Instead, the World Series MVP already is fired up, and he is firing up his teammates with his unique clubhouse style – long on direct comments and inspired putdowns.
"He is a cut-up," pitcher Dontrelle Willis said. "He keeps everyone on their toes."
The Beckett star that burned so hot and so bright so soon doesn't appear to be fading. In fact, with added experience and perspective, we may not have seen anything yet. His career regular-season record is a modest 17-17.
"No. 21 is going to be a superstar," Jeff Conine said. "The sky is the limit. He is cocky; he is confident. And to be a successful pitcher you have to have that."
Beckett backs down from no one. He wears the stylish goatee and semi-long hairstyle. He challenges anyone, anywhere.
In the second half of last season he put it all together and became, for this stretch, one of the most dominant starters in baseball. From mid-July on, his ERA was 2.55 and he struck out 83 in 88-1/3 innings. In six playoff appearances his ERA was 2.11 and opponents batted just .139.
And he did it with the cool, calm demeanor of a veteran – not like a freaked-out kid trying to close out a Series at storied Yankee Stadium.
"You know, I didn't think about it," Beckett said of pitching in New York. "I think other people made more of it. It is still 60-feet-6-inches. The plate is still 17 inches wide. You still have to pitch. So I wasn't really worried about [Yankee] Stadium too much."
Beckett has emerged as the de facto ace of a rotation that really has four such players: Beckett, Willis, Carl Pavano and Brad Penny. Although manager Jack McKeon hasn't named an Opening Day starter, everyone expects it to be Beckett.
"I wouldn't mind having his stuff," said Willis, who merely is the reigning NL Rookie of the Year. "As a pitcher, he is as talented as I have seen."
Which is why the Marlins figure they have a chance of becoming just the second NL team (1975-76 Reds) in nearly a century to repeat as World Series champs.
This rotation probably is only getting better. It certainly is focused. All these 20-somethings aren't walking around patting themselves on the back about accomplishing their career goal, being a world champion. They are just more determined to do it again.
So while Game 6 may be a performance that will go down in history, to the young pitcher it already is history.
"I just hit my stride at the right time," Beckett shrugged, cool as ever.