Sláinte Mhaith, Josh Beckett!

Drink up, Josh! You've earned it! (Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor/sittingstill and used with permission)

Drink up, Josh! You’ve earned it! (Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill and used with permission)

I was never really a fan of Josh Beckett’s.  Young and cocky is definitely not the way to my heart. But that changed on the evening of Saturday, October 25, 2003 when I got a phone call from my sister demanding that I put on Fox to watch the end of Game 6 of the World Series.

Up to that point, I hadn’t watched on second of the World Series or any coverage around it.  If you’re a Red Sox fan, you know I’m not exaggerating. 2003 almost made me give up baseball altogether and I knew if I actually watched the Yankees play in another World Series, let alone win it, I might never watch another game.

It was the seventh inning when my sister called and Beckett was cruising. The Yankees starter Andy Pettitte pitched seven innings and closer Mariano Rivera pitched two…but Beckett pitched all nine. By the seventh inning my sister was convinced no one was beating Beckett and she wanted me to watch the Marlins beat the Yankees right there on the field at Yankee Stadium.

I wasn’t as confidant as my sister. While she decided to spite watch the World Series in the hope that the ALCS had worn out the Yankees, I couldn’t bear it. But she finally wore me down and in the 8th inning I put on the game and it was the most glorious patch of baseball I had seen since the final inning of the 2001 World Series.  (A joy that also was shared with my sister over the phone…we have a history of enjoying memorable sports moments that way even though we don’t live that far away from each other.)  And after that game, Josh Beckett was a hero to me. A flawed hero, certainly, but a hero nonetheless right up there with Luis Gonzalez.

So when the Red Sox traded for him in 2005, I was overjoyed.  Hmmm…that could be a little bit of revisionist history. Let’s go look at the archives* and see how I felt:

Josh Beckett:  Am I worried about his shoulder?  Slightly.  But not enough to quash the trade.  Am I worried about his blisters?  Nah.  Derek Lowe helped bring us to the World Series with a very similar malady.  Here’s a guy who dates a “famous hot chick”…so he already knows how to deal with the press and with attention being dumped on him from all sides.  He’s the hot new thing in Boston, which will take the pressure off of Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke (their both being the hot new things in 2004 and having to live up to the hype and their history in 2005)…he’s from Texas, apparently we Red Sox fans love those boys…oh yeah, and 25, one heck of a pitcher generally and pretty much had the Yankees number…so I’m a happy gal.

I was happy enough.

(*Reading that entry from 2005 and all I can say about myself back then was I was an idiot. I compared Mike Lowell to Kevin Millar and I didn’t “see it happening” for Hanley Ramirez. I definitely should keep the day job.)

Bottom line was, we got Beckett and if for no other reason than his brief history as a Yankee killer I was happy he was coming to Boston. In the time that he spent here, I can’t say that he ever became one of my favorite players but I was pleased enough to get the opportunity to see him pitch fairly regularly back then. It took a couple of years, though, for me to truly appreciate his Josh Beckettness and that happened during the 2007 ALCS.

Beckett and the Red Sox won Game One over the Cleveland Indians in fine style: 10-3. But that game was followed by three…THREE consecutive losses. Bringing us to a Game Five that was do or die for the Red Sox and that brought Beckett to the mound again. You remember Game Five, don’t you? The Cleveland Indians in their infinite wisdom invited a country singer named Danielle Peck to sing the National Anthem.

Peck wasn’t exactly a household name but the Indians claimed they invited her at the last minute to sing because she was from Ohio. But the twist was that she also happened to be one of Beckett’s ex-girlfriends, leading most of the free world to believe that the Indians brought her in to get inside Beckett’s head.  Beckett pitched eight innings, gave up five hits, one earned run and struck out eleven. The Indians were doing it wrong but it DID lead to one of the most glorious Josh Beckett quotes of all time:

“I don’t get paid to make those f**king decisions…She’s a friend of mine. It doesn’t bother me at all. Thanks for flying one of my friends to the game so she could watch it for free.”

And THAT is how you respond to real-life trolling. (Well, that and the whole pitch 8 innings only giving up one run thing.)

Thanks to more impressive pitching, some insane offense and defense plus a bad bit of base running, the Red Sox went on to win the next three games, got to the World Series and steam rolled over the Colorado Rockies – where Beckett began the series by giving up six hits and one run while striking out nine in the Game One victory at Fenway Park.

Sure, things ended poorly for Beckett in Boston. The media’s obsession with beer, fried chicken and golf fueled a lot of fan rage against what seemed like players who just stopped caring about what they were doing. Couple that with possibly the most unpopular manager in the history of the Red Sox (somewhere, Don Zimmer tips his cap) and Beckett probably did cartwheels on his way to the airport when he headed for Los Angeles. But Red Sox fans have the luxury of not having to hold grudges any more. After the debacles of September 2011 and ALL of 2012, no one really expected 2013 to go the way it did. But because it did, we can all take a deep breath and at the very least acknowledge that Beckett holds a special and quite important role in the history of the Boston Red Sox. You don’t have to like him to admit that he was practically a super hero for our team when we really needed him to be.

Beckett will be having surgery on his hip in May of 2015. Last night, after the Dodgers were eliminated from the post-season, Beckett essentially told that 2014 would be his last season pitching in baseball.

“I just don’t see me going through that rehab and coming back to pitch at this point in my life.”

In May of this year, Beckett threw a no-hitter and his team finished the season by playing in the first round of the playoffs. In spite of his injuries and the disappointing ending to the Dodgers’ season, he’s pretty much leaving baseball on a high note.

It’s difficult to feel too sorry for the 34 year-old. He has two World Series rings, a no-hitter and many, many other baseball feats to be proud of. He’s had a good career and after getting surgery he’ll be young and rich and able to do whatever the heck else he wants to do. But the fact is I do feel a bit sorry. Even when he annoyed the hell out of me, Beckett being in baseball made the game a bit more interesting.  A little to my surprise, I have to admit that I’ll miss him.

Much luck to you, Joshua Patrick Beckett.  We’ll always have 2007.

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2 comments on “Sláinte Mhaith, Josh Beckett!
  1. Tex says:

    He had me at “that’s horseshit”
    Yes he’s cocky…but he’s my cocky Texan. I wish him well and kudos to being a Daddy twice now

  2. Becky says:

    I like the Irish in the title! 🙂