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Beckett's potential yields results


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Dan Le Batard



I t is certainly a charming story line.


The Marlins as overachievers.


Except for this one problem.


Every fifth day, it is an enormous lie.


Yes, The Little Team That Could stuck a sword in Philadelphia's season Wednesday, this time by a 6-5 score, and now the wounded Phillies will stagger around for the season's final four games, spilling blood before finally expiring in a collapsed heap.


And it is easy to paint this as a story of the tiny underdog slaying an expensive giant like Jim Thome, especially if you select only the caricatures and cartoons from the Marlins cast of characters.


Like little Juan Pierre, crooked cap too big for his tiny head. And Chad Fox, claimed from the scrap heap, returning from not one but two career-threatening elbow surgeries. And the catcher nobody wanted this offseason, in Florida for repairs. All of them led, in the absence of the injured ace and broken best hitter, by lovable curmudgeon Jack McKeon, a 72-year-old man who has never been in the playoffs.


But here's the fatal flaw in all this myth-making:


Every fifth day, the Marlins are not underdogs or overachievers.


Not nearly.


Not when Josh Beckett is standing at the center of all their hope with that ball in his right hand.


Because he was always supposed to be here, at the center of greatness and winning and applause, and it has taken him longer to arrive than anyone expected, himself included.




Upon signing with the Marlins in 1999, Beckett swaggered into the clubhouse and announced he would be pitching in the 2001 All-Star Game. This, mind you, was on his very first day as a pro. It was a bold, cocky, dumb thing to say, and Marlins veteran Alex Fern?ndez let him know it, loudly. He lit into Beckett in front of everyone in the room, Fernandez saying that he had won more than 100 major-league games without ever pitching in an All-Star Game. Shut up, in other words. And welcome to the majors, kid.


Funny thing, though: This attitude may not be something you like to hear, but it is most certainly something you want on your mound. This kind of attitude wants the ball in big moments. This kind of attitude is just disrespectful and bulletproof enough to dispatch Thome with a high fastball Wednesday and thinks it can win against Barry Bonds in the first round of the playoffs, too.


This kind of attitude storms off the mound in Wednesday's eighth inning, ignoring the standing ovation, seething even in triumph because he couldn't finish with a 6-0 lead and had to leave up only 6-2 instead.


''Beckett dominated,'' Bowa said after all but a flicker of his team's season had been extinguished. ``That's the best stuff we've seen all year through six innings. He is overpowering.''


He is that, and more, even though he has been more thunder than lightning up to now. You could see it for yourself as he struck out Thome with a high fastball, and then that Bugs Bunny curve. You could see it, too, in the seventh and eighth inning, as all of Beckett's fastballs kept whistling in at 95, 96, 95, 96, 96.


But he started nibbling in the eighth inning, inexplicably, and McKeon stormed out of the dugout to tell him through curses to knock it the hell off.


''He does that to me all the time,'' Beckett said. ``I think that's the only way to get through to me sometimes. I got stupid. That's what I deserved. He probably should have bent me over his knee and spanked me.''


Beckett is equal parts country and cowboy, a big Texan who has shot a 245-pound deer in the offseason, and he has been a big-game hunter in the second half -- one of the National League's best pitchers, quietly producing an ERA (2.32 going into Wednesday) that ranks with the Mark Priors and Jason Schmidts. He is just immature enough that all the attention Dontrelle Willis has gotten might bother him, and motivate him, the two months off due to injury looking like a blessing now that so many other arms look tired and his feels fresh.


''I've underachieved,'' Beckett said. ``I'm a .500 pitcher. That's not good enough. I'm not content with mediocrity.''


He still had a little seethe in him afterward, even in a triumphant clubhouse, because he expects more from himself than merely winning.




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