BOSTON — Josh Beckett needs a bigger trophy case: Now he has an AL Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award to go along with his 2003 World Series MVP.
Unflappable and close to unhittable, Beckett shut down Cleveland twice, including a victory in Game 5 that started Boston’s comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series.
Beckett wasn’t even needed in Sunday night’s 11-2 Game 7 victory over the Indians and will be well rested when he faces the Colorado Rockies and Jeff Francis in Wednesday night’s World Series opener at Fenway Park.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Beckett said. “I’d like to have another ring.”
He had a 1.93 ERA in going 2-0 against the Indians, allowing three runs in 14 innings. He’s 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA in three postseason starts — after becoming baseball’s first 20-game winner since 2005 — perhaps the biggest reason the Red Sox are back in the World Series for the second time in four seasons.
“He’s the best pitcher I’ve ever seen,” Boston pitching coach John Farrell said. “He’s a special, special pitcher.”
Beckett gave a lot of the credit to his catcher, Jason Varitek.
“I don’t know if we’ll cut it in half or not,” Beckett said of the award. “It’s a team deal. I don’t even know how I’m sitting here holding this. There’s a lot of MVPs in here to me.”
After center fielder Coco Crisp made a running catch on Casey Blake’s drive for the final out, Beckett ran in from bullpen, raised his arms and hugged third baseman Mike Lowell, his former Florida teammate, in the infield. Beckett had offered to pitch in relief on two days’ rest — he did that for the Marlins in Game 7 of the 2003 NL Championship Series — but the Red Sox didn’t need him.
At home on the mound, he was less comfortable in the unfamiliar confines of the bullpen.
“He was like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers,” reliever Mike Timlin said. “He didn’t know what to do, really. He didn’t know when to throw, when to warm up. He was occupying himself. He threw a little bit on the side, played some catch with the outfielders.”
In his first season in the AL last year after being traded by Florida, Beckett relied too much on his fastball. He finished at 16-11 with a 5.01 ERA and allowed 36 homers with 158 strikeouts and 74 walks. He was 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA this year, allowing 17 homers, striking out 194 and walking 40.
“I think maturity is the biggest thing,” rotation mate Tim Wakefield said. “He’s trusting himself, trusting whatever Tek is putting down.”
Beckett won the series opener, allowing two runs in six innings during Boston’s 10-3 win. Then, after Cleveland had scored 24 runs in winning the next three games, Beckett gave up just one run in eight dominant innings in a 7-1 win.
“The first couple of innings, you try to figure out what you’ve got and what’s not going for you and what’s not working so well,” Beckett said. “Don Sutton used to tell me every time you go out there you’re going to be a different guy.”
Beckett is 5-2 with a 1.78 ERA in nine career postseason appearances, numbers that bring to mind pitchers such as Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax. On Wednesday night, he’ll be back on the biggest stage for all to see.
“He’s the best pitcher in the game right now,” said Curt Schilling, the 2001 World Series co-MVP for Arizona, “and, if it’s possible, he gets better in October, and that’s saying something. He’s a special, special kid with special stuff, and he’s at the beginning of a long and storied career”