Beckett vs. Francis promises to be better than Beckett vs. Sabathia

Mike Fine

Josh Beckett knows the drill, and that's pretty obvious. He's 3-0, 1.17 in the playoffs, and even earned the MVP award for the ALCS, but as he prepared to take the big stage for the first game of the World Series Wednesday night against the Colorado Rockies, he had some even loftier experience upon which to draw.

Beckett was on the mound for the final out of the 2003 World Series, when his Florida Marlins knocked off the Yankees, and he was awarded his first MVP trophy. Yet, he doesn't even let that enter his thought process.

"I'm not too worried about it, just trying to execute pitches," said the right-hander. "I'm not worried about any of the other stuff. It's great if you win those awards. There's about five other guys that could have won that award in the ALCS. We had one guy hit .500 and hit three home runs, and somehow I came out with it. I feel very blessed and very lucky to have won it. But there's a lot of guys that could have won that award.

"I think I've been doing the same thing in October that I was doing during the season. Just comes down to executing pitches. They always say it's easy when you've got all your stuff going for you."

Make no mistake about it, Beckett has. He kicked off the ALDS against Anaheim and the ALCS against Cleveland with wins, and the Sox fully expect him to do likewise against the Rockies in the World Series.

"The thing he does," said teammate Jonathan Papelbon, "is he wins one inning at a time, one batter at a time, one out at a time. That's such a key component in the playoffs-one at a time instead of trying to rush yourself."

"I have confidence in all our guys," said Dustin Pedroia, "but Josh has carried us. The way he threw the ball in Game 5, and against the Angels, we needed that."

The Sox might need it more than ever before. While their top three of Beckett, Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka remains intact, they revealed Tuesday that Tim Wakefield will miss what was thought would be a Game 2 start because of continuing shoulder inflammation. While the Sox aren't saying it, it appears he could be finished for the playoffs. Youngster Jon Lester was being stretched out yesterday to start Game 4.

How that matches up against the Rockies is anyone's guess, but they're in similar straits, with ace Jeff Francis starting against Beckett, followed by Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Fogg and Aaron Cook, the veteran who hasn't pitched since Aug. 10 with a strained muscle in his side.

There's a lot going on here. When the Rockies visited Boston in June, it was Wakefield who won the first game, beating Cook, while Schilling and Beckett lost in blowouts, to Fogg and Francis. That was then, this is now.

"They've always had a good lineup," Beckett said. "I think now they've got some pitchers that know how to pitch because they were always just kind of mixing and matching when I was in the National League, but they've always been able to hit. There was never a question about any of their ability to spit out hitters, Todd Helton being a guy from quite a long time ago, but they've always been able to put a good team out there."

Nor does Beckett feel that he'll be rolling over the Rockies' hitters, who've been out of game action since clinching the N.L. pennant on Oct. 15.

"They're going to be locked in. That's the way it is in October. I keep saying that. They're not worried about that. It was a good chance for them to rest, and I don't think that any of them are going to be using that as an excuse, and I don't think that that's something that we should use as an excuse, either. They've been hitting. They've been taking BP, whether it be in a cage or on the field. Their guys are going to be locked in. That's the way October is."

One thing Beckett does know is that Francis will be locked and loaded himself. Francis comes in at 2-0, 2.13 in the post-season. "I've obviously watched him this October and he pitched against me here during the season," he said. "He competes, throws all his pitches for strikes.

"The thing that really impressed me about Jeff, watching him in October, was that he never changes his moods, they always stay the same. It was really impressive to watch him pitch in both of those playoff games and be the No. 1 guy in both series. It didn't matter what happened in the first inning, second inning was the second inning, third inning was the third inning. It impressed me how even keeled he was."

Francis, meanwhile, has been just as impressed with Beckett. "Well, he's been everything you think about when you think of dominance," he said. "I think he's shown that he's one of the best pitchers in baseball all year, not just this postseason. I think for me I just have to go out and try to do my job. I can't concentrate on what other pitchers are doing, just hope that our offense can come out with a couple runs here and there and that I can go out and do my job. I can't worry about what Josh Beckett is going to do, because he's shown what he's going to do. If he can do it consistently then they're going to have a good chance, and that's what makes for a good baseball game."

The Rockies feel Francis can do it consistently, too. When he faced the Red Sox on June 14, he was 5-5. He went 12-4 after that. "Well, he was able to stay within his skill sets and stayed with his strategies," said manager Clint Hurdle of that outing in Boston. "(He hit) both sides of the plate, keeping it down, elevate when he wanted to, throwing some secondary pitches on offensive counts. He's got a pretty slow heartbeat.

"He's a good pitcher. He can make pitches. And he reads swings well, and he's just the kind of guy that he shows up every day. I don't think he does anything that jumps out at you, but over the course of time, he impresses you."

The Sox feel that way, too, but they felt that way against Fausto Carmona and C.C. Sabathia of the Indians.

The Patriot Ledger