- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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DETROIT -- Anyone who has known Josh Beckett for any length of time, even casually, could have predicted that he would be the last man offering apologies for how last season ended for the Red Sox.
He owned up to pitching poorly in his last two starts against the Orioles. But how 180 degrees different the offseason narrative would have been for both Beckett -- who pitches Saturday against the Tigers -- and the Red Sox if he had pitched in September the way he had so beautifully in the first five months of the season.
The beer-and-chicken nonsense, he justifiably ignored. The bigger belly, which is going to draw attention when you fall on your face, he attributed to a change in workouts after he sprained his ankle but said he was prepared for all of his starts and told WEEI.com that pitchers shouldn't be expected to look like Jacoby Ellsbury anyway.
But here's the part I find confusing. In a spring training interview with WEEI.com's Rob Bradford, Beckett was at his most defiant in defending himself against those who blamed his late-season failures on being distracted by the impending birth of his first child, born the morning after the season ended.
"I got torn apart," Beckett said. "Everybody just destroyed me because I cared more about what was going on with my wife than I did that game. I almost think people want me to think the other way around, and I think that's absolutely absurd. To ask a man to care more about a major league baseball game -- and I know it's a major league baseball game -- than he does about what's going on with his wife, who's due any minute. And I never want her to be an excuse. Yeah, I was distracted, but that's not her problem. That's on me. I would never trade that."
In his group session with media at the start of spring training, Beckett mentioned distractions, but when asked directly if he was alluding to becoming a new parent, he deflected the question. But in his conversation with Bradford, he sounded rankled that it would even be an issue.
"If somebody reads this or somebody thinks I'm wrong, they can go [expletive] themselves. That's the truth. That's what's important to me," he said. "I'm not saying baseball is not important. I could differentiate on the day I was pitching. I went out there and I was still as competitive. I'm not saying my mind was only focused on just this pitch because I did have other things on my mind. Whether you want to understand that or not, I don't care because I know who I am and what I'm trying to do."
Beckett is 31, soon (May 15) to be 32, and only those who have a callus in place of a heart would begrudge him the obvious joy he has found in being husband and father. Now, maybe my memory is faulty, but I didn't recall it being an issue with the media, or used as a reason he was knocked around by the Orioles.
Plenty of stuff about Beckett not living up to his ace reputation, but not a hint that it was because he cared more about becoming a dad.
What irritated Beckett most after the second loss was when someone with mistimed sympathy suggested he had pitched pretty well. "What game were you watching?" he snapped.
But "torn apart"? "Destroyed"? Just who is Beckett telling to "go [expletive] themselves"? Even the notorious front-page, beer-and-chicken Boston Globe expose, which did a fine job tearing apart Terry Francona, made mention of Beckett's belly but not a word about his wife's.
We know Beckett was distracted because he said he was. If someone made a big deal about it, I missed it. He is not the first man who has ever had to deal with becoming a dad for the first time. Most everyone does their job regardless. Many men with jobs that take them away from home don't have the means of lining up a private plane to rush them home when their wives go into labor. No one begrudges Beckett that he was; if anything, they were envious.
If Beckett wants to carry a chip on his shoulder into the season, fine. If it motivates him to pitch his best, even better. He once told an interviewer that when he was a kid, "I was always going to have to stand up for myself, always get the last word in, definitely." Backing down is not how he rolls.
It's an old story, but one of the great tales about Beckett growing up was told years ago by the coach of his Connie Mack traveling all-star team, Butch Ghutzman, to reporter David O'Brien:
"We're playing Cy-Fair High School, Cypress-Fairbanks," Ghutzman says. "There was a gate on the backstop fence, about 20 feet to the right of the plate. A father of one of the Cy-Fair kids is crouching behind the fence, holding on to the gate with one hand, shouting the location of pitches. He's seeing where the catcher, my kid, Stephen Ghutzman, is setting up and shouting it out.
"Anyway, about the third inning, Stephen went out to the mound and said, 'Damn, you hear this guy?' Josh, who's throwing a no-hitter, says, 'Yeah, I hear him. I'll fix that.' And this is what he did, coach, I'm not kidding you. Josh winds up -- and remember this guy is about 20 feet to the right of home plate -- and Josh throws and hits the fence right in front of the guy's nose.
"If the fence wasn't there it would have hit him square in the nose. The guy's so shocked he falls back like a ladybug. Coach, it was the damnedest thing you ever saw. Scouts said it was the most accurate high school pitch they'd ever seen."
Does Beckett pitch his best when he's angriest at somebody? He wouldn't be the first. But does he really believe people think less of him because he now has someone who calls him "Daddy?"