Back in 2007, Josh Beckett was arguably the best pitcher in the American League.
Of course, he ultimately lost out on the Cy Young in a squeaker to C.C. Sabbathia (and for a good laugh: John Lackey finished third), but all things considered, the season belonged to Beckett.
He was baseballs only 20-game winner. He boasted a 3.27 ERA (Lackey led the league at 3.01.) and a 1.14 WHIP. He struck out 194 batters and walked only 40. He was dominant in every way.
That dominance only escalated in the playoffs, where Beckett went 4-0, giving up only four runs over 30 innings (thats a 1.20 ERA) and striking out 35 batters while walking only two. The highlight of his ridiculous run came in Game 5 of the ALCS against Cleveland, when the Sox faced elimination, the Indians famously hired Becketts ex-girlfriend to sing the National Anthem and the Texas Tough Guy responded by surrendering only one run and racking up 11 Ks over eight innings and celebrated by making sweet love to his ex on top of the Indians post-game clubhouse buffet. (I think.)
At that moment, right on through the World Series and into the winter, Beckett was a legend around these parts. Every bit the moody, entitled, unlikable crab that he is today, but too good for anyone to care. He was a bonafide ace, a postseason giant. Short of learning that he spent his off-season training pit bulls with Michael Vick, Beckett was a guy you wanted on your team. Always and forever.
Fast-forward to 2012, and forever has come and gone. In the aftermath of Kevin Youkilis being shipped out of town, many believe that Beckett is the next shoe to drop in the cleansing of the Sox clubhouse. Even more, many want Beckett to be that next shoe. For so long four and a half years we've held on to the memories from that historic postseason (on top of what he did in 2003), been teased continuously with flashes of brilliance and almost blindly believed that when push came to shove, regardless of all the BS, Beckett was still a guy you wanted on your side. A guy who was proud enough, and had the fortitude to step up and return to greatness on the game's biggest stage.
But at this point, now that it's been three years since the Sox won a playoff game and Beckett's attitude has remained ornery as hell, the question has become: Can the Sox get back to that stage the postseason, the ALCS, my God the World Series with a guy like Beckett lingering in the clubhouse? Or, conversely, can the Sox get back to that stage without their most experienced and potentially dominant pitcher?
It's a confusing predicament. Another case of addition by subtraction, but Beckett's issue is a little deeper than most. After all, it's one thing to jettison a struggling, malcontent third baseman when the future's standing right behind him, already overdue for a shot in the driver's seat. It's one thing to shed a malcontent shortstop even if he's one of the most beloved figures in franchise history when your line-up's already stacked and you can get a gritty, defensive vacuum in return.
It's another thing when you talk about dropping the best pitcher on an already shaky staff. When he's a guy who makes so much money, and is approaching an age where you'll not only have to accept lesser value in return, but pay an obscene amount of cash in the process. When all the behind the scenes "problems" have been almost exclusively perpetuated by the media. When his teammates have almost always come out in his defense, and the only guy who we have reason to believe had a serious problem with this pitcher is now living it up on Chicago's South Side.
Sure, it's been five years so long ago that John Lackey was still one of the AL's best since we've seen Josh Beckett take it to another level in the playoffs, but it's almost impossible to look at some of the stretches he's had this season (for instance, May 15-26: 21 and twothirds innings pitched, three earned runs) and not fall back on that same unconditional faith. To wonder: Why would the Sox give that up? How could they give that up? Or, as Rob Bradford asked on last night's late edition of Uno's Sports Tonight: "Well, who's going to replace him? You want Kyle Weiland starting games in September again?"
Maybe Beckett isn't the machine that he was in 2007, but the Sox have still won over 60 percent of his starts (58-37, .611) in the four-plus years since. By comparison, they're 86-57 (.601) in Jon Lester starts over that same time. Either way, they still win when Beckett's on the mound. And maybe I'm crazy, but I'd much rather roll the dice with No. 19 and all his baggage than like Bradford said, end up in another position where the Sox are relying on the likes of Kyle Weiland in September.
Yeah, maybe in a perfect world, you get rid of Beckett and start fresh, but this isn't a perfect world, and it only seems logical to roll with him at least one more time, give him at least one chance to make amends for last September. Even if he can't capture the magic 2007, if he can just crank it back to last month, it would be enough.
Call me a sucker, but I'm still holding on to the hope that he can. And absolutely positive that if Beckett can get back there physically, all the bitching about his attitude will disappear faster than Kevin Youkilis' clubhouse name plate.
Whether he can get back physically is another question all together. Here's what Beckett had to say to the media after being placed on the DL with an inflamed right shoulder: "I got overruled, and it's probably smart. I'm definitely not ready for my career to be over."
To be honest, that last line concerned me more than anything having to do with Beckett's personality: "I'm definitely not ready for my career to be over." That he'd even bring that possibility up is a little scary, and makes you wonder what's actually going on in that shoulder feels, andor how much it has left in the tank?
But for now, the Sox are certainly playing it the right way. They're doing all they can to make sure Beckett's in position to be the best he can be down the stretch. And as crazy as it sounds, when that stretch arrives, I truly hope Beckett's still in Boston.
He may not be ideal, but all things considered, he's still the best we've got.