Complete feat: Ace, offense click
Beckett twirls gem as bats come out swinging in opener
BOSTON -- The stage was brighter and the atmosphere was more tense, yet Josh Beckett and the Red Sox never so much as blinked at the added pressure.
Dominant all season long, Beckett managed to take his game to another level on Wednesday night, and the Angels never seemed to have a chance.
The ace right-hander -- backed by a solo homer by Kevin Youkilis and a two-run shot by David Ortiz -- lifted the Red Sox to a 4-0 victory over the Angels in Game 1 of this best-of-five American League Division Series at Fenway Park.
Beckett did so by firing one of the best games any Boston pitcher has had during the month of October. Beckett's complete-game shutout was the first for the Red Sox in the postseason since Luis Tiant stymied the Reds in Game 1 of the 1975 World Series.
"He went out there and executed pitches, in my opinion, probably better than he has at any point of the season," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He attacked the strike zone with all of his pitches -- cut his fastball. He pounded the strike zone with three great pitches."
Beckett (four hits, no walks and eight strikeouts) was so good that the packed Fenway house stood up and applauded for the mere fact he came back out for the ninth inning. Not that there seemed to be a doubt.
"It's a really cool thing to be able to go out there and be the only pitcher that pitches for your team that day," said Beckett. "After eight innings, I don't think they ever really thought about taking me out. It was just one of those deals that it was kind of known throughout the dugout that I was going back out there."
Beckett, who went 20-7 during his breakout season, picked up right where he left off in his first postseason outing since Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, when he willed the Marlins past the Yankees. In fact, with his latest batch of goose eggs, Beckett became the seventh pitcher in postseason history to produce shutouts in back-to-back starts.
Four years later, Beckett is more polished and even more confident. On this night, the Angels were left to pay the price. After allowing a leadoff single in the first, Beckett retired 19 batters in a row, which tied him for the third-longest streak in postseason history.
"He was able to do exactly what everyone expected and pitch a dominant game against a good team," noted Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp.
The Angels had a top-notch pitcher of their own on the hill in John Lackey, but the Red Sox set an early tone. Youkilis belted Lackey's 92-mph offering over the Green Monster for a solo homer to make it 1-0 in the bottom of the first.
"I was just trying to look for the sinker and react to the curveball," said Youkilis. "I didn't try to do too much, and luckily I got a good result out of it and was very happy that it got out."
It was the first homer for Youkilis since Sept. 4, and a sign that the bruised right wrist that troubled him late in the season is starting to come around.
"It felt a lot better as the days have progressed," said Youkilis. "I think the best thing about it is that it's playoff time and adrenaline helps the most."
With Beckett all but untouchable, the Red Sox had plenty of time to stretch out their lead. Ortiz did just that in the third, unloading on a hanging breaking ball by Lackey for a two-run homer into the box seats in right. It was Ortiz's ninth career homer in postseason play, tying him with Jason Varitek for the club record.
Ortiz's sizzling September seemed to carry right into this one.
"I know this team counts on me a lot," said Ortiz. "A lot of guys count on me and watch how I do things. I take a lot of responsibility for whatever is happening around here."
If Ortiz wants to have another October where he just carries the Red Sox on his back, he'll get few complaints from the clubhouse.
"He loves the big stage and loves to go out there and perform at that level, and it's fun to watch," said Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew.
Manny Ramirez kept the pressure on by following Ortiz with a walk. He moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a single up the middle by Mike Lowell.
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"I think going up, especially at home, Game 1, the momentum is on your side. There's no doubt about that," said Lowell. "I think David's blast was huge. From a one-run game to a three-run game is a little different. It's a good feeling. I don't think there's ever a bad feeling when one of your teammates goes deep."
But pardon the Angels for getting a sinking feeling at that point. The last thing they wanted to do against Beckett was dig any kind of hole. And a 4-0 deficit felt much larger with Beckett taking a one-hitter into the sixth.
"The guy pitched an incredible ballgame," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "We didn't have many good looks at him."
The Angels didn't have so much as a legitimate rally against Beckett. They didn't have an extra-base hit. They never had a runner at third with less than two outs.
Beckett was in utter control.
"I didn't want to get wrapped up in trying to strike a lot of guys out, because those are the at-bats that will end up killing your pitch count," Beckett said. "I just stuck with pitch to pitch, trying to get outs as quick as possible."
The simplistic approach led to a two-hour, 27-minute contest. But the Red Sox knew not to get overly giddy about one game.
"I think we've got to pretend the first game didn't happen as soon as the second game starts," said Lowell. "We have a chance to put a lot of pressure on them by wining Game 2."
Daisuke Matsuzaka takes the ball for Boston in Friday's Game 2; he'll be opposed by Kelvim Escobar.
But in Game 1, Beckett produced a performance that will be difficult for anyone to duplicate for the rest of the series.
"He was terrific," said Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo. "You couldn't ask for anything better than that. He was throwing his pitches for strikes -- his cutter. His breaking ball was awesome throughout the game. He was perfect."
Without question, the series got off to a perfect start for the Red Sox.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.