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Beckett not full of self

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Beckett not full of self


By Karen Crouse, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Friday, March 5, 2004




FORT LAUDERDALE -- It was only the exhibition season opener, but Josh Beckett was in post-season form.


The cocksure kid who talked a big game and then went out and pitched one in Game 6 of the World Series was throwing icy stares Thursday at any reporter new enough to ask if he's feeling added pressure this season to pitch in a manner befitting a World Series MVP.


"I'm 23 years old and I have a World Series ring," the Marlins pitcher said.


It was a vainglorious way of saying the rest of his career is gravy. But Beckett is not conceited. His bravado is like his breaking ball; it's meant to fool you.


If Beckett was really full of himself, he would have thrown his 50 pitches against the Baltimore Orioles and haughtily called it a day. Beckett was one out from completing his three scheduled innings when pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal made his way to the mound.


Beckett had delivered 56 pitches in 2 2/3 innings. That was more than enough for the first day, Rosenthal said. "You're done," he told Beckett.


But Beckett was in no mood to leave. He asked Rosenthal if he could face one more batter. Pleaded with him is more like it.


"I want to see if I can get out of the inning," he said, stating his case as if it were the last week of October and not the first week of March.


Rosenthal appreciated Beckett's attitude, but his mind was made up. That left Beckett with nothing to do but grudgingly give up the ball and walk to the dugout. His exit set off a round of applause that the Marlins fans at Fort Lauderdale Stadium had kept bottled up for four long months.


You can imagine how loud the clapping was when at last it was released. It sounded like thousands of champagne corks popping.


The fans definitely went the extra smile to welcome back Beckett, whom they hadn't seen on a baseball diamond since he tagged out Jorge Posada at Yankee Stadium to cinch Game 6 and the World Series.


Beckett's five-hit, 2-0 shutout of the Yankees was the Harry Winston gem of the baseball diamond. Everybody and his late-night producer wanted Beckett on their couch to talk about it. He did a couple laps around the television talk circuit, he took a lap around the track in a pace car at the Daytona 500, he lapped up the attention.


When you're 23 years old and have a World Series ring, chasing celebrity can easily become your preferred form of conditioning. Marlins manager Jack McKeon has seen too many one-year wonders in his time to not fret some about Beckett.


He stopped worrying when Beckett showed up for training camp in terrific shape. His showing against the Orioles did nothing to dispel the rumor that Beckett had more than a few dates during the winter with Dennis Fay, a Houston-based trainer.


Beckett was throwing his fastball consistently in the 95-to-97 mph range with no apparent discomfort. He made only one blatantly bad pitch, a hanging curve to Miguel Tejada in the third inning that Tejada launched out of the park. It was the shortstop's method of getting even after being the second of Beckett's four strikeouts.


"You don't expect him to have July command the first time out," McKeon said, "but I thought his stuff was good."


A 23-year-old who has a World Series ring could start believing the game has nothing left to teach him. Beckett isn't that dumb. He hasn't let his 1.10 ERA in the World Series blind him to the fact he was but a.500 pitcher (17-17) in his first two seasons.


"He was so dominating on such a big stage against the Yankees that he's a little disappointed in being a 17-17 pitcher," observed third baseman Mike Lowell. "I think he's motivated to prove that he can be that dominating kind of pitcher through the course of a season."


That would explain Beckett's lone goal. It's not to win the strikeout crown or a date with Tara Reid. It's to pitch 200 innings. Because if he does that, he figures the rest will take care of itself.


"You talk about major-league record books being full of one-year phenoms," McKeon said. "But in Beckett, I see a guy who wants to prove to the world that hey, I'm going to be the consistent pitcher you saw against New York."


When you're 23 years old and have a World Series ring, what do you do for an encore?


"Get another one," Beckett said.


Nothing wrong with that answer. Nothing at all.


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