Beckett determined to play stopper

Beckett determined to play stopper

BOSTON -- One thing is clear: White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen loves to talk. Before games, Guillen sits in the visitors' dugout, eyebrows furrowed in an expression of deep concentration, gaze flickering randomly back and forth. He is ready to talk about anybody with everybody. He jaws and curses and spits fire, and everyone knows what happens next: Someone gets singed, or maybe he does.

At 5:05 p.m. ET, before the White Sox took on the Red Sox at Fenway Park, a game that Boston won, 10-3, Guillen's eyes opened wide, his voice growing slow and forceful. The subject? Josh Beckett.

"He likes to compete," Guillen said. "He likes to be the best. He likes to be better than [Curt] Schilling. I know that. He wants to be better than Schilling. He wants to be better than the knuckleball kid [Tim Wakefield]. He wants to be better player than [Daisuke Matsuzaka], the 'K' guy. And he wants to be better than [Jonathan Papelbon], the closer. He wants to be the best guy out there.

"When they [start] talking about the Boston pitching staff," Guillen said, "he wants his name to come up first. With all due respect about the other guys, that's the type of person, that's the type of pitcher he is."

Two hours later, Beckett took the ball and proved Guillen right.

It wasn't always easy, but it hasn't been easy for the Red Sox. In the middle of a three-game skid against lowly Kansas City and Chicago, Boston needed a lift. Recent mound performances left plenty to be desired. Determined to play the stopper, Beckett took the rubber.

In the third inning, he gave up a three-run homer to Jim Thome.

"Thome's a very dangerous hitter," said manager Terry Francona. "He got to the fastball."

The White Sox didn't let up. Neither did Beckett. It was a long, hard night. The right-hander hurled 114 pitches, and his night ended after the sixth inning. He estimated that 20 of those pitches -- "the decent to good" ones -- were fouled off.

"Those are the days you really have to stay focused -- when they're fouling pitches off," Beckett said. "It's easy to get frustrated. They're not putting it in play; they're working your pitch count. That's what good teams do."

But one by one, Beckett set down the White Sox. When the dust finally settled, he had been charged with three runs on four hits, with a season-high 10 strikeouts.

It was his first 10-K game since April 10, 2005, when he punched out 11 Washington Nationals. Most impressive of all: Beckett faced 11 batters after the Thome homer. Five of them struck out. Only A.J. Pierzynski, who was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double, reached base.

Eleven up, 11 down.

"He stayed focused, continued striking people out, continued making his pitches, and getting the popout or groundout whenever we needed it," Coco Crisp said.

"That's why he's a great pitcher," said Dustin Pedroia. "He doesn't let one pitch affect his whole night."

On Oct. 25, 2003, Guillen was in a different visitors' dugout -- the one down in New York -- when he watched Beckett, then a Florida Marlin, throw a complete-game shutout, clinching a World Series title against the vaunted Yankees.

"I watched ... this kid grab the bull by the horns," Guillen said. "That's the reason the Marlins have a ring on their hands."

This place, on Friday night, was different. Different fans saw a different kind of performance -- not as breezy, not as consequential. But it was the same pitcher, all right. The same guy, four years older and yet still on a mission.

"You get 37,000 people that desperately want you to win pretty much every night here," Beckett said. "If it was up to us, we'd win all of them."

Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.