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Saturday, August 7, 2010
Updated: August 8, 11:23 AM ET
Beckett is up for Sunday's challenge

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

NEW YORK -- Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia once described the tenacity in which Josh Beckett pitches in such a colorful manner that it's not suitable for print.

In an attempt to get Pedroia's point across, let's just say that when Beckett toes the rubber, every Red Sox player has complete confidence the right-hander will dig deep and use every bit of his anatomy to help his club win.

Josh Beckett
Josh Beckett's teammates have total confidence in the pitcher.

It's true Beckett is a true competitor and he brings a certain mound presence when he takes the ball, but his season was derailed a bit by a lower-back strain when he slipped on a wet mound at Yankee Stadium on May 18 and landed on the disabled list.

He's made three starts since returning to the rotation and is 2-0 (3-1 overall this season), and he looks healthy and ready to make a serious run in the final two months of the season. His teammates will need him in a big way on Sunday when Beckett faces the Yankees' A.J. Burnett in the third game of this four-game set. Each team has won a game and the Sox are confident Beckett will bring his best stuff.

"It's always good when you have a pitcher like Josh Beckett in your rotation," said Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez. "It doesn't matter if it's against these guys or whoever. It's always great to have a pitcher like him in any rotation."

In his past three starts, Beckett has resembled the pitcher he was during the 2007 season when he helped the Sox to a World Series title. Martinez was a member of the Cleveland Indians that season when Beckett posted a 2-0 record in the ALCS and Martinez believes his batterymate is close to that form again.

"It's too early to say, but so far he looks great; he looks pretty good," Martinez said. "He's been hitting his spots and executing all of his pitches. He's been great."

Red Sox first baseman Mike Lowell has known Beckett for a long time. They were teammates with the Florida Marlins and both came over in a trade to Boston prior to the 2006 season. When the job absolutely needs to get done on the mound, Lowell knows Beckett is the guy.

"He's huge. He's a guy with elite stuff," Lowell said. "We feel pretty confident with anyone in our rotation, but Josh brings that pedigree of the No. 1 guy. He's a good guy to have on the mound [Sunday]."

Beckett thrives in big-game situations, but his swagger is consistent.

"He just thrives at being on the mound," Lowell said. "I don't think he needs the big games to try to be good."

Beckett has enjoyed success against the Yankees during his career. He's 9-6 with a 5.95 ERA in 20 starts against the Bronx Bombers, and he's 5-2 with a 4.78 ERA in nine games at Yankee Stadium. He also owns a 1.10 ERA in two career postseason starts against the Yankees.

For all intents and purposes, Sunday's start will be like a playoff game, and Beckett is fired up for the challenge.

"I am," Beckett said simply.

The most talked about pitching performance of Beckett's career came against the Yankees, but he was playing for the Marlins at the time. Pitching on only three days rest, he tossed a complete game, five-hit shutout to lead Florida to a 2-0 victory over the Yankees in the decisive Game 6 of the 2003 World Series. He was only 23.

"He's unique," former Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon once said about Beckett. "He's a big Texan who has a lot of pride. He's a hard worker and he's the kind of guy who wants to be good. And, he is good."

Beckett has matured as a pitcher since his days with the Marlins and has also dealt with various injuries along the way. He's attempted to pitch through some of them in the past, but when he injured his back earlier this season, the Red Sox thought it best to not rush their ace back too soon and risk further injury.

Beckett is healthy now, and if the Red Sox have any chance of staying in contention in the AL East, he will need to carry them the rest of the way -- beginning Sunday against the Yankees.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.