They don’t grow power pitchers on trees in Texas—they raise them like cattle. The latest Lone Star stud is Josh Beckett. Strong as a bull, Josh has everything you could want in a hurler: deadly stuff, pinpoint control and a decided mean streak when he toes the rubber. He isn’t lacking for confidence, either. That is especially true in the postseason, where he has established himself as perhaps the best money pitcher of his era. Josh has been dominant since he was knee high to Nolan Ryan and fully expects to keep it that way for a long time. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Joshua Patrick Beckett was born in Spring, Texas, on May 15, 1980. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) Baseball was his life from the time he could walk.

Josh's hometown fed his love of the sport. Baseball was like religion in the tiny Houston suburb, which has sent many players to college programs and the minor leagues. Three years before Josh was drafted by the Florida Marlins, a boyhood friend, Michael Marriott, was taken by the club in the fourth round.

As a kid, Josh idolized fellow Texans Ryan and Roger Clemens. He dreamed of following in their footsteps. In elementary school, he scribbled on a homemade card his ambition to play in the majors. His parents, John and Lynn, didn’t doubt he would fulfill his destiny. Nor did his brother, Jesse.

Josh showed at an early age that he was a special talent. A pitcher, outfielder and first baseman, he was the main attraction on the North 45 Little League All-Stars, one of Texas’s top teams. The squad remains a powerhouse today. Off the field, Josh was loose and laid-back. On it, he was cocky, competitive and ultra intense.

When Josh entered his freshman year at Spring High School, he felt he was ready for the varsity. The youngster could bring it in the high 80s, and he also had a devastating circle change-up, which he learned after watching a video called “Field of Heat” featuring the Ryan Express. In Texas, however, hard throwers are as common as fire ants. With plenty of arms to spare, Spring High coach Kenny Humphreys started the campaign with Josh on the JV. When the frosh ran into trouble in the classroom, he remained there all season long.

The following summer, puberty kicked in, and Josh sprouted several inches. With his growth spurt came an extra six or seven mph on his fastball. Suddenly he was more than your average pitching prospect. Everyone who saw him was immediately reminded of Kerry Wood, who had starred at Grand Prairie High School up in Arlington.

Josh thrived under the pressure of increased expectations. As a sophomore at Spring High, he went 9-3 and struck out 149 hitters. His legend was just beginning to grow.

Josh topped those numbers in his junior year, going 13-2 with a 0.39 ERA for the Lions. Voted the Texas 5-A High School Player of the Year, he fanned 178 and allowed just 31 hits in 89 innings. His performance helped earn him the nickname, "Kid Heat." Some scouts claimed he would be the top pick in the draft, sparking rumors that he was considering going pro a year shy of graduation. Josh, however, had no interest in becoming a test case for baseball. He let the world know he would spend his senior season in a Spring High uniform.

A year later, Josh cemented his status as the nation’s No. 1 high school prospect with a lights-out senior campaign. Never lacking for confidence, he had the word "Phenom" stenciled on one of his jackets. He backed up his bravado with another scintillating campaign, going 10-1 with a 0.46 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 75.1 innings. He was selected by USA Today as the High School Pitcher of the Year. His year, however, ended on a shocking note when Round Rock High School beat him in the state playoffs. In the extra-inning affair, Josh surrendered a season-high four runs and nine hits.

That game gave Josh a glimpse of the pressure he could expect to face in the majors. Round Rock fans spent the evening riding him mercilessly. Josh’s father, stationed in his customary seat next to the Spring dugout, was startled by the abuse hurled at his son. Knowing one day that Josh might be hearing it from 50,000 enemy fans, he was proud how well his boy handled himself.

ON THE RISE

Big league scouts were equally impressed by Josh. At 6-4 and close to 200 pounds, the 19-year-old already had the body of major leaguer. His fastball regularly approached 100 mph, and he was willing to throw his curve and change-up anytime in the count. Indeed, Josh’s ability to pitch—not just throw—made him even more attractive to pro teams.

The only knock against the teenager was his cocky attitude, though not everyone shared this view. Josh had no problem using his name in the same sentence with Ryan, Clemens and Wood, and he went as far to predict he would be an All-Star by 2001.


 

 

 


Nolan Ryan, 2001 Upper Deck

     
 

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays were one of the teams turned off by Josh’s arrogance. They held the first pick in the 1999 draft and faced a tough decision between him and another high schooler with the same first name, Josh Hamilton, a power-hitting outfielder also projected as a can’t-miss kid. Their choice was made for them after Josh visited the home of Tampa Bay owner Vince Naimoli before the draft. Lounging around like the place was his, he called Naimoli by his first anem At that moment, many of the Devil Rays execs in attendance decided that Hamilton was the better fit for the organization.

The Florida Marlins, meanwhile, had no hang-ups with Josh. After winning the World Series in 1997, Florida owner Wayne Huizenga shed all of his high-salary players in order to sell the franchise. As a result, the team hit rock bottom in 1998. F’loridas reward for a lost season was the second pick in the '99 draft. Josh was exactly the kind of player the Marlins hoped to rebuild around.

Veteran scout Bob Laurie liked everything about the young Texan and urged the team to take him. The Florida brass concurred—specifically scouting director Al Avila, who had watched Josh in person five times. In June, Josh became the first high school pitcher in the franchise’s short history to be taken in the first round. Not since the Montreal Expos’ selection of Bill Gullickson with the number-two pick in 1977 had a righty so young been chosen so high.

Josh was elated to realize one of his childhood dreams, but he also understood he was in excellent bargaining position. Determined to get every last nickel out of the Marlins, he played hardball with the club. Florida initially offered a package that topped out at $4 million. Josh wanted nearly twice that much. The negotiations dragged on through the summer. When August rolled around, Josh enrolled at Blinn Junior College in Texas and prepared to start his freshman year.

The Marlins finally blinked, inking Josh for four years at $7 million, including a signing bonus of nearly $4 million. The team announced the deal during a press conference at the Astrodome in Houston. Helping seal the deal was that fact that Florida agreed to a big league contract. That meant Josh was placed on the team’s 40-man roster, and the Marlins would be compelled to promote him to the majors sooner rather than later.

Such deals were extremely rare for high school prospects, particularly pitchers. Eric Munson, taken by the Detroit Tigers with the third pick, had also received one, but he and Josh were the first two given this treatment since Todd Van Poppel and Alex Rodriguez in 1990.

Josh showed up for spring training in 2000 ticketed for Florida’s lower Class-A team, the Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League. Though a couple months shy of his 20th birthday, he was welcomed warmly by his new teammates. Veteran starter Alex Fernandez was among those who befriended the youngster, needling him about his uniform number (61) every chance he got.

Josh also received important words of wisdom from manager John Boles and scout Red Murff. With a stable of young pitchers in camp—including Ryan Dempster, Brad Penny, A.J. Burnett and Jason Grilli—Boles told his rookie not to expect a David Clyde-like jump from high school to the majors. Murff, who years earlier had discovered Nolan Ryan, shared the secret of longevity on the hill, telling Josh to run three extra miles at the end of every workout.

In spring training, before being designated to the minor league complex, Josh had the Marlins drooling over what they could expect from him down the road. In his first appearance, two innings of work against the Kansas City Royals, he struck out all six batters he faced, reaching 96 mph on the radar gun.

With the Cougars, Josh continued to dazzle. In his debut, he logged four innings and fanned seven. A week later, he overpowered the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. But that start proved to be his last for nearly two months. When Josh complained of soreness in his right shoulder, the Marlins took no chances. An MRI revealed mild tendonitis, and he was shut down immediately.

A cold snap lingering over the midwest undoubtedly contributed to Josh's health problems. So did his overzealousness to get back in action. Placed on the disabled list, Josh sought advice from people in and out of the organization, including Grilli and former big leaguer Scott Sanderson. Meanwhile, he disregarded the instructions from the one person he should have listened to, Kane Country trainer Alan Diamond. Adopting the theory that more is always better, Josh increased his weightlifting program without Diamond’s consent. The extra work only served to weaken his shoulder. It also led to the termination of Diamond, who was let go after the season.

Josh returned to the mound in May and picked up a victory in his first outing, going two innings in a 9-1 win over the Burlington Bees. From there on, he assumed his regular spot in the rotation, where he made a lasting impression.


Josh Hamilton, 2001 Stadium
     
 

Though Josh tired by season’s end (and served a second stint on the DL), his numbers were fabulous. In 59 innings, he whiffed 61 and allowed just 45 hits and 15 walks. He did all this against the likes of Albert Pujols, Austin Kearns and Adam Dunn, all of whom logged full seasons in the MWL. Opposing managers were impressed enough to vote Josh's fastball the league’s best tool.

Over the winter, Josh met with Dr. James Andrews in Alabama to get his shoulder checked out completely. The diagnosis detected a small tear in his labrum, some fraying in his rotator cuff, and biceps tendonitis. The news didn’t cause much concern. After a standard rehab program, Josh received a clean bill of health.

Josh headed into the 2001 season with thoughts of pitching for the Marlins before the campaign was over. There seemed to be room on the Florida roster for him. Since 1997, the team had been adding pieces each year. Though not yet ready to contend for another championship, the Marlins were on the right track. Dempster, Penny and Burnett all had live arms, and young hitters such as Cliff Floyd, Mike Lowell, Luis Castillo, Preston Wilson and Derrek Lee showed great promise. Josh was eager to prove he belonged with this group of up-and-coming stars.

Josh opened the campaign with the Brevard County Manatees in the Class-A Florida State League. Known historically as a pitcher’s league, the FSL was a perfect training ground for Josh. In his first five starts, he threw 30 scoreless innings and recorded 46 strikeouts. By June, he was 6-0 with a 1.23 ERA.

The Florida brass rewarded Josh by moving him up to the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs of the Eastern League. In his first outing, he pitched four superb innings, fanning eight of the first nine batters he faced. Later, in mid-August, Josh logged the first seven innings of a combined no-hitter for Portland. This time, the Marlins acknowledged his outstanding performance with a promotion to the big club.

Josh made his major league debut on August 30 against the Chicago Cubs at Pro Player Stadium in Miami. The highlight of the game was a strikeout of slugger Sammy Sosa. Josh started three more games over the season’s final weeks and ended the year at 2-2 with a 1.50 ERA.

After his sensational September audition, Josh was determined to stick with the Marlins in 2002. The team, meanwhile, was in a state of flux, especially as baseball was still trying to sort out an uncertain ownership situation. In fact, some speculated that if Bud Selig’s promise of contraction came to fruition, Florida—which had finished at 76-86 in '01—was a prime candidate to get the axe. But in February, the club was sold to Montreal owner Jeffrey Loria, after he handed the Expos over to MLB. Loria wasted no time naming Jeff Torborg as his manager and Larry Beinfest as his GM.

On paper, the two had plenty to work with. The infield—Lee, Lowell, Castillo and Alex Gonzalez—was young and talented. The outfield had more experience, not to mention a couple of thundering bats, in Floyd and Wilson. The pitching staff, also youthful, boasted a potential rotation with no one older than 27. Josh fit into the picture as either the fourth or fifth starter. Out of the bullpen, the six-fingered Antonio Alfonseca handled the closing duties.

The season was a success from a pitching standpoint. Burnett and Penny learned more about how to approach big league hitters, while reliever Braden Looper showed he was ready to handle the ninth inning. Josh also gained valuable experience, happily listening to the war stories of Torborg and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. During his playing career, Torborg had caught both Nolan Ryan (with the California Angels) and Sandy Koufax (with the Los Angeles Dodgers). Arnsberg knew a lot about Ryan too, having pitched with him on the Texas Rangers.

Josh opened the year 0-2 in his first five starts, but his ERA was a respectable 3.52 and his velocity and control were good. An aggravating problem soon began to plague the 22-year-old, however, as blisters on his pitching hand limited the effectiveness of his curve. By late April, they became so unmanageable that he was forced to the DL.

Josh returned in May and posted consecutive wins on the road, at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco and Coors Field in Colorado. But his blisters reappeared weeks later, and after the worst outing of his career (seven runs on eight hits in an inning against the Cincinnati Reds), he was disabled again. Josh took the hill next for the Marlins in July. He proceeded to fan 12 over six dominant innings against the Expos in a 4-0 victory.

To Josh’s chagrin, he ran into blister problems again a month later and made a third trip to the DL. He tried every remedy suggested to him and sought advice from Ryan and Al Leiter, both of whom battled blisters early in their careers. In the end, the best counsel he received was to be patient and wait for some major league calluses to develop.

Josh was activated in September and closed out the year blister-free. His final stats—6-7 with a 4.10 ERA in 21 starts—didn’t really tell the story of his season. When healthy, Josh showed that he could be unhittable. Though he had yet to master all the nuances of pitching and needed to refine his mechanics, he clearly had the stuff to be Florida’s ace.

While Florida never really competed for a playoff spot, the team gave its fans lots to cheer about. The offense matured into a pesky group of hitters who beat opponents as often with their legs as their bats. Some onlookers groaned when Beinfest dealt Floyd, Dempster, Alfonseca and Clement. But the Marlins got value in return, picking up outfielder Juan Encarnacion and a trio of live arms in Carl Pavano, Justin Wayne and Dontrelle Willis. Florida’s final record of 79-83 wasn’t bad, considering all the turnover.

With his pitching staff rounding into shape, Beinfest continued to retool the Marlins in the offseason. In a deal with the Rockies, he swapped center fielders, picking up the speedy Juan Pierre for Wilson. With Castillo slotting down to second in the batting order, the Marlins now had a pair of first-rate table-setters.

The GM took another bold step by signing catcher Ivan Rodriguez—a player who some thought had passed his prime. Pierre and I-Rod figured to fit in nicely in batting order, and they also strengthened Florida’s up-the-middle defense. If Lowell and Lee continued to emerge as power threats, the Marlins stood to score a decent amount of runs. A third shrewd move by Beinfest was the acquisition of lefty Mark Redman. A soft thrower with an assortment of change-ups, he was a perfect foil to rest of Florida’s fireballing rotation.


Josh Beckett, 2001 Baseball America
     
 

As the 2003 season approached, Torborg gave Josh a huge vote of confidence and named him his Opening Day starter. Josh, in turn, became the youngest hurler to claim that honor since Dwight Gooden in 1986. The youngster, however, got hammered by the Philadelphia Phillies in an 8-5 loss. The defeat helped set the early tone for the Marlins, who flopped around .500 for the first six weeks of the year.

While Pierre, Castillo and Rodriguez were taking care of business at the top of order, the team couldn’t mount a consistent attack. The pitching was spotty, too. Looper and the bullpen were blowing leads, Burnett was on the DL, and Josh wasn’t feeling great, either. In fact, in mid-May, he finally admitted that his elbow was bothering him. Diagnosed with a sprain, he again went on the DL.

In retrospect, Florida’s skittish start proved a blessing. Torborg was fired and replaced by 72-year-old Jack McKeon, who refocused the clubhouse attitude. With the Atlanta Braves already running away with the division, he told his players to relax and have fun. When they did, the wins came in waves. A big part of the team’s resurgence was the call-up of Willis. The slingshot lefty, who always arrived at the ballpark with a big smile, won his first seven decisions.

With the club playing well, the Marlins were careful about Josh’s return. He came off the DL in July and won his first start against the Braves, handcuffing them for six innings. He finished the month at 3-1 with a 2.42 ERA . Florida, meanwhile, had won enough games to take a run at the Wild Card.

With the trade deadline nearing, Beinfest decided the Marlins would be buyers, not sellers. He turned down offers for Lowell and fiddled with his roster for the stretch run. His loudest deal was a trade for Ugueth Urbina from the Rangers, giving Florida a reliable arm in the bullpen. A move that flew under the radar was the acquisition of Jeff Conine, a solid right-handed bat and a member of Florida’s 1997 championship team. The Marlins also bolstered themselves from within, getting nice numbers from Miguel Cabrera, a 20-year-old shortstop who McKeon used at third and in the outfield. When Lowell went down with a broken right hand, Conine and Cabrera saw action as everyday players.

Going into September, no less than six teams were in contention for the Wild Card. The Marlins shot to the front of the pack with lights-out pitching and timely hitting. No one did more for the club than Josh. In the season’s final month, he put together five outstanding starts, including a victory in a crucial series with the Phillies. The win helped Florida clinch its first playoff berth in six years.

MAKING HIS MARK

The Marlins squared off against the pitching-depleted Giants in the first round. The defending NL champs were installed as favorites, but Josh matched ace Jason Schmidt’s velocity and command in a classic Game 1 pitcher’s duel. Though the Giants gutted out a 2-1 victory, the Florida players realized they had a chance. The Marlins routed the Giants in Game 2 and then flew east and beat them twice at Pro Player to take the series.

McKeon held Josh out for a possible Game 5 start, forcing Felipe Alou to do the same with Schmidt. This not only sunk the Giants’ boat, it had a huge impact on the next series, against the Cubs. Josh started the series opener and surrendered four runs in the first inning. From that point on, he was untouchable.


Jeff Torborg, 1967 Topps
     
 

Josh came back strong for Game 5 with the Marlins down three games to one. He responded with a two-hit, 11-K shutout that sent the series back to Wrigley Field. In Game 6, the Marlins put together their famous eight-run eighth inning to beat the Cubs, 8-3. In Game 7, with both teams’ starters wavering, McKeon called Josh in from the bullpen, and he pitched four great innings to nail down a 9-6 victory. The win sent Florida to the World Series against the mighty New York Yankees.

The Marlins stole the opener at Yankee Stadium behind a clutch hit by Pierre and a solid outing by Penny. New York answered with a victory in Game 2 to knot the series. Josh got the ball in Game 3 in a contest viewed by almost everyone as a must-win. Josh lasted into the eighth and left with a 1-0 lead, but Willis gave up a two-run single that opened the door to a 6-1 Yankee win. Though the bullpen let Josh down, he didn’t blame anyone for the loss. In fact, Josh was the first to pat Willis on the back when he got to the dugout.

With the sportswriters ready to write off the Marlins, Florida showed its mettle with big-time wins in the next two games. The series headed back to New York, where Yankee fans were certain their team could pull it out. Expecting a win in Game 6 from Andy Pettitte, they were anticipating a Game 7 rematch of Josh and Mike Mussina—which was fine with them. The feeling was that the Marlins’ ace would not stand up to that kind of pressure.

McKeon crossed everyone up when he named Josh the Game 6 starter. He was going for the jugular, even though Josh had never worked before on three days rest. As Josh saw it, this was where all that extra conditioning would pay off. Though stiff after Game 3, he felt fine when he played long toss the next day. He told McKeon to give him the ball.

Josh was brilliant against New York’s veteran lineup. He allowed two baserunners only once in the game, mixing his fastball, change and curve with devastating effectiveness. The Marlins chipped away at Pettitte for a couple of runs, and Josh kept mowing ‘em down. Even when his velocity dropped and he got away with some funky pitches, McKeon refused to give him the hook.

First Willis, then Urbina got busy in the bullpen, but by the time the ninth inning rolled around, they stopped throwing and watched with the rest of an amazed baseball world as Josh put the finishing touches on a five-hit shutout. Jorge Posada made the final out—a roller down the first base line that Josh gloved and slapped on the Yankee catcher.

Josh was named World Series MVP. His 47 postseason strikeouts tied Randy Johnson’s mark from 2001. The Marlins, on the heels of just their second winning season, had their second world championship. None of this seemed to sink in for Josh. After the game, he kept his cap pulled down over his eyes and talked about how it was nice not to have a game the next day. He could start thinking about hunting, he said, and that was a “good thing.”

Coming off a world title, an MVP award, and loads of newfound fame, Josh was again named Florida's opening day starter for 2004. The 23-year-old picked up right where he had left off against the Yankees, allowing only one run in seven innings while striking out nine against the Expos. The Marlins figured the victory was a harbinger of things to come. With Armando Benitez solidifying the bullpen, Cabrera and Lowell around for a full year, and the best young starting rotation in baseball, Florida was stacked.

But the team also had holes, particularly with Rodriguez leaving via free agency. Josh added to the team's problems when he was placed on the disabled list in late May because of a blister on his right middle finger. He attempted twice to come back, first in June and then in July, but both starts were cut short.

Josh’s health issues began to wreak havoc on the Marlins. At 30-20, the team held a two-game lead in the National League East when he first went down. Without him, Florida fell back to the pack. The club tried to jumpstart itself in July with a trade for catcher Paul Lo Duca, reliever Guillermo Mota and former Marlin Juan Encarnacion.

In late August, still hovering around .500, Florida finally began to click. The Marlins rolled off nine straight wins to claw back into contention for the Wild Card. Pitching was the primary reason for their fine play. Pavano was having a Cy Young season, Burnett returned from arm surgery, and Josh, now fully healthy, was doing some serious dealing. Unfortunately, Florida could not sustain its magic. The team dropped 17 of its last 28 and finished at 83-79, nowhere near the playoffs.

Josh wound up at 9-9 with a 3.79 ERA. He averaged nearly a strikeout per inning and tied his career high with 26 starts. He also spun his first complete game in the majors, a six-hit shutout over the New York Mets in August. Overall, however, Josh's '04 campaign was a disappointment. Injuries aside, he lapsed into old habits too often, sometimes losing concentration on the mound and other times thinking strikeout instead of just getting an out.

Josh finally put it all together in 2005, shaking once and for all the notion that he was just a fancy .500 pitcher. Tough to beat in April and May, he looked like he was on track for a 20-win season before his old blister problem cropped up in June. He also battled a strained oblique which sapped his strength during the summer.

Yet through it all, he made good pitches when he had to and finished the year with a perfect September. The only down note in a campaign—which saw him go 15-8, with a 3.37 ERA and 166 Ks—was the Marlins’ inability to stay in the Wild Card shuffle. With Florida out of the race, Josh ended his season a week early with shoulder soreness


Josh Beckett, 2003 Flair
     
 

In November, the Marlins again looked to the future. This time, Josh was the centerpiece of a deal that sparked a new youth movement. Florida packaged him with Lowell and Mota for stud prospects Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez. Were it not for Josh’s staff-best 16 victories in 2006, Boston fans would have been suicidal, as both Ramirez and Sanchez blossomed in Florida. Still, with the club winding up out of the playoffs at 86-76, Red Sox Nation was floundering.

Josh sparkled in his Boston debut, allowing one run in seven innings. But overall he had an up-and-down season for the Sox. Early in the year, he again seemed headed for the Cy Young Award. But Josh also struggled at times, particularly late in the year, and rumors began circulated that he was tipping his pitches. Hecountered by saying that some of the beatings he took were simply due to poor pitch location. His 5.04 ERA—in part a result of a bombing by the D-Rays in his final start—was one of many ugly numbers turned in by the Boston staff as a whole. The good news was that on his best days, Josh was a thing of beauty. Finally avoiding blister problems, he finished with career highs in wins, innings (204.2), and starts (33).

Josh entered the 2007 campaign like a man on a mission. He won eight of his first nine decisions, dominating opposing hitters with his fastball. Part of Josh's success was attributed to new Boston pitching coach John Farrell. His control was also a major factor. Josh's strikeout-to-walk ratio recalled the days of teammate Curt Schilling in his prime.

With Josh leading the way, the Red Sox built a comfortable lead in the American League East. His performance was all the more impressive considering that neither David Ortiz nor Manny Ramirez was having his usual season. The offense, however, was bolstered by rookie Dustin Pedroia, rising star Kevin Youkilis, and the steady play of Lowell at third. With Jonathan Papelbon closing things out in the ninth, the Red Sox had the look of a champion.

That began to change in the second half when the Yankees went on a torrid run. Red Sox fans cringed at the thought of a Boston collapse. But with Josh shouldering the burden for the pitching staff, the club held off the New York rally to finish first in the division at 96-66.

As the AL's only 20-game winner, Josh was the odds-on favorite for the Cy Young. His other stats backed up that assertion. In just over 200 innings, Josh surrendered 189 hits, fanned 194 batters and walked only 40. Every time the Red Sox needed a victory, he delivered.

That was no more apparent than in the playoffs. Starting with his first outing against the Los Angeles Angels, Josh was all but unhittable. His fastball was his primary weapon. He used it to get ahead of batters and then also put them away it. When he mixed in his off-speed stuff, the opposition was helpless.

After blanking the Angles in the Division Series, Josh beat the Indians twice in the American League Championship Series. Both times he completely out-pitched Cleveland ace CC Sabathia. His second victory over the Tribe was crucial. With the Red Sox trailing in the series three games to one, Josh shut down the surging Indians, limiting them to one run over eight innings. Boston returned home and finished its comeback with a pair of runaway victories.

In the World Series, the Red Sox drew the firecracker-hot Colorado Rockies, winners of 21 of their last 22 games. The Rox never knew what hit them, thanks in part to Josh's performance in Game 1. Again, he was masterful, exhibiting pinpoint control of his fastball and working ahead on virtually every hitter he faced. Boston's 13-1 win set the tone for the rest of the series, as the Red Sox rolled to a sweep. Lowell was named the MVP, but no one doubted that Josh played an equally important role in the franchise's seventh championship.


Josh Beckett,
2006 ESPN Magazine
     
 

Josh continued to throw the ball well in 2008, turning in an exceptional strikeout-to-walk ratio. He did spend some time on the DL with an oblique strain and other assorted maladies, however, making only 27 starts. This was reflected in his 12–10 record and higher-than-usual 4.03 ERA. More important, Josh’s periodic absences hamstrung the Red Sox in their annual division battle—not with the Yankees, their traditional foes, but the surprising Rays.

Boston finished second in the AL East, with 95 wins. That was good enough for a Wild Card berth. The Red Sox disposed of the pesky Angels in the Division Series in four games. Josh started Game 3 and could not hold an early lead, but Boston triumphed in 12 innings to seize control of the series.

Against the Rays in the ALCS, Josh started Game 2 and was hammered for eight runs before leaving in the fifth inning. The team later tied the game, but Boston lost in extra innings. Josh was much better in Game 6, a must-win for the Red Sox, who were facing elimination. He held Tampa Bay to two runs, and Boston tied the series with a 4–2 win. With experience and momentum on their side, the Red Sox looked good heading into the pennant-decider, but Matt Garza outdueled Jon Lester and Boston was done.

In 2009, Josh got the Opening Day nod for the first time as a member of the Red Sox. He rewarded them with a 10-strikeout performance against the defending AL champion Rays. It was one of several memorable performances that season. In June, he twirled his first shutout in three seasons. The win came against former teammate Derek Lowe and his new team, the Atlanta Braves. Less than a month later, Josh shut out the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park. It was the 100th victory of his career. And in August, Josh hooked up with former Marlins teammate AJ Burnett in a scoreless pitching duel that would ultimately go 15 innings.

Healthy and productive after his disappointing ’08 campaign, Josh went 17–6 with a career-high 199 strikeouts. He was selected to pitch in the All-Star Game but did not see any action in the AL’s 4–3 win. Josh finished the year second in the league with two shutouts, third in complete games with four, fourth in wins, sixth in strikeouts—all to the tune of a respectable 3.86 ERA. Josh was lights-out in the first half, but less effective down the stretch. Although he continued to win, he was increasingly susceptible to the long ball.

The Red Sox finished second in the AL East at 95-67, which was good enough to make the playoffs. They faced the Angels again, but this time Los Angeles had their number. Josh pitched Game 2 against Jered Weaver. They went into the seventh inning tied 1–1 when Erick Aybar cracked a back-breaking triple to deep center field with two runners aborad. The Angels won 4–1 and took the finale back in Fenway with a three-run ninth against closer Jonathan Papelbon.

The Red Sox began 2010 with more question marks than exclamation points. Seven of their nine position players were older than 30, as were most of their key bench players. The pitching staff, with the exception of ageless Tim Wakefield and newcomer Jon Lackey, was much younger and would likely determine the team’s fortunes. A couple of months before Josh reached his 30th birthday, the Red Sox made sure to lock him up through 2014 with a four-year contract extension worth nearly $70 million.

Embroiled in a pitched battle with the juggernaut Yankees and resurgent Rays, the Red Sox needed Josh to give them 30 starts. In May, it became apparent that this wouldn’t happen. Josh felt a tug in his lower back, which was diagnosed as a strain. He went on the DL in the middle of the month and did not return until late July. Josh was money on his return, limiting the Seattle Mariners to a single run as he pitched into the sixth inning.


Josh Beckett, 2008 Heritage
     
 

So where does Josh go from here? In the old days, the Red Sox faithful would say he has only one direction to head—straight down. But the new era of optimism in Boston is going strong, and Josh is the major source of this wellspring of good feelings. For all the huge innings he’s pitched, he is still only 30. That's distressing news for enemy hitters, who are never happy to be in his crosshairs. As Josh has proven, when he’s at his best, they are easy prey for him—particularly when he toes the rubber in the playoffs.

JOSH THE PITCHER

With a fastball that consistently clocks in the 90s, Josh has a weapon that few hurlers in baseball can match. Add to that a sharp-breaking curve, and he would seem to have all the pitchers he needs. But Josh also boasts an excellent change-up that may be his most devastating delivery. When he has command of all three, forget about even touching him. Josh has also demonstrated a willingness to pitch inside, making him an even more imposing figure on the hill.

Early in his career, Josh sometimes ignored his mechanics in favor of throwing as hard as he could. The Marlins reinforced the need to use his lower body to generate power, and the Red Sox have continued to stress this. By driving towards the plate with his legs, he also takes stress off his arm. As his idols Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens can attest, this is the secret to a long career as a power pitcher.

Josh is brash and cocky, and proud of it. He wants the ball in the big spot, and his teammates have always had complete confidence in him. While he has a lively sense of humor and likes to kid around away from the field, Josh is deadly serious when he takes the mound. Already in his young career he has shown the ability to dominate when the pressure is at its most intense. Boston fans now know what the rest of baseball learned in 2003—Josh is the sport's top pitcher when the money is on the line.

 


Josh Beckett, 2010 Heritage


 

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