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Beckett's gems earn him ALCS MVP

Beckett's gems earn him ALCS MVP

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BOSTON -- Josh Beckett strolled through the Red Sox clubhouse, drenched in champagne, and stopped by one of the room's exits. The pitcher wrapped one arm around Boston catcher Jason Varitek and took a long drink from the bottle in his right hand.

The comeback was complete. The Red Sox had once again climbed out of an intimidating hole to shock the Indians in an 11-2 victory in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday night. The win set off an instant celebration inside Fenway Park and outside on the streets of Boston.

The improbable rally that concluded might not have been possible without the stellar performances by Beckett, who was rightfully honored with the ALCS Most Valuable Player Award. He added to his legend this fall, slicing his way through Cleveland's lineup and forcing the series back to Boston.

"He's a special, special pitcher," Boston pitching coach John Farrell said. "When he's able to channel that talent and make pitch after pitch and keep his focus and concentration for so long, there's no reason why he's not a Cy Young Award winner."

The results on that regular-season race are still pending, but there's more coveted hardware now in Beckett's sights, along with the rest of his teammates. Thanks in part to his two victories over the Indians in the ALCS, the Red Sox have advanced to the World Series for the second time in four seasons -- this time to face the Rockies.

Beckett, who won the World Series MVP for the Marlins in 2003, turned in six strong innings en route to a win over Cleveland in Game 1 of the ALCS, providing Boston with an early advantage. Then, after the Red Sox dropped three games in a row to the Tribe, Beckett delivered an epic outing in Game 5, giving Boston a chance to swing the series in its favor in front of a home audience.

"He was unbelievable," Red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli said. "He steps up for us and wins Game 1. Then he has a huge game in Game 5 to push it back to [Game 6 starter Curt Schilling]. We needed to get to Schill, because he was ready for that game.

"Beckett, he's a man. He's a bad guy. He's just unbelievable. Like Manny [Ramirez] would say, 'He's a bad man.'"

Beckett's showing in Game 5 was nothing short of spectacular. The right-hander spun eight innings, in which he struck out 11 and walked just one. Beckett surrendered one run in the start, but that came on a double-play grounder in the first inning. From there, Beckett overpowered Cleveland's hitters.

"It's just one of those deals," said Beckett, downplaying his success. "We came up big whenever we needed to in Game 5, whether it be me pitching or we ended up scoring seven or eight runs that day. So that was obviously the big thing for this series."

In his two starts against the Indians, Beckett went 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA and 18 strikeouts versus just one walk over 14 innings. In three starts this postseason, including a Game 1 outing against the Angels in the Division Series, the 27-year-old has posted a 3-0 record with a tidy 1.17 ERA. Across that span, he's logged 26 strikeouts and one walk over 25 frames.

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"I go out there every time," Beckett said, "and the first couple innings you try and figure out what you've got, and what's not going for you and what's not working so well. [Hall of Famer] Don Sutton used to tell me, 'Every time you go out there, you're going to be a different guy.' So throughout the course of a year, you can be between 30 and 35 people.

"When I'm out there, I feel like the guys are all behind me, and I just feel like we're better than everybody else."

Beckett's showing during these playoffs has simply been a continuation of the remarkable season he fashioned for Boston. During the regular season, he went 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA, fanning 194 batters. Beckett's impressive campaign made him one of the leading candidates for the AL Cy Young Award.

"I don't know how anybody ever hits him," Mirabelli said. "He had, I don't know how many losses this year, but I have no idea how that happens. You get up there and he's got every pitch in the book that are off the charts."

Beckett -- 5-2 with a 1.78 ERA in nine career playoff outings -- was willing to put those pitches on display once again in Game 7, if the need crept up. That was until starter Daisuke Matsuzaka turned in five solid innings, and Boston's bullpen followed by holding Cleveland in check, while the offense built a substantial lead. Now, Beckett appears to be in line to start in Game 1 of the World Series against Colorado on Wednesday night at Fenway Park.

"There was talk before the game about not creating a spot for him, but if we needed him, we would go to him," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who even floated the idea of bringing Beckett in to pitch the ninth inning on Sunday.

That need never arrived, though, so Boston can afford to wait and see what the next chapter holds in Beckett's postseason career.

"He's grown into being a pretty special guy -- not just a pitcher, but a kid," Francona said. "He understands his responsibility, and he's really grown into that. It's fun to watch."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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