Josh Beckett knows what’s going on.
He knows he’s pitching well. He understands what is working and what isn’t. And he isn’t turning a blind-eye to what might happen if he continues to keep doing what he’s doing.
But mention “Cy Young” and you’ll most likely get one of the pitcher’s trademark “it’s one of those deals” synopses. Beckett has come to learn what works in concocting a successful season, and one thing he gleaned from two years ago is that stressing about an award isn’t worth it.
“It’s all about me making that next pitch in my next start. I love being mentioned as that guy, but honestly I can’t think about that right now,” Beckett said. “We all know how that (stuff) works. It’s not like I’m the most friendly guy ever. But I’m not going kiss somebody’s (butt) just to have somebody vote for me. I’m not going to get outside my comfort zone just to make sure that happens.”
If there are two things you should know about Beckett is that he is: A. Extraordinarily genuine (to the discomfort of some); B. Keenly self-aware.
He hasn’t forgotten that two writers left him completely off his ballot in 2007 when CC Sabathia garnered nine more first-place votes than Beckett on the way to earning the Cy Young Award that season. And the Red Sox hurler believes he knows why that might have been the case.
Beckett fully accepts some media members’ perception that he is somewhat unapproachable, sometimes short with his analysis, and doesn’t carry the same gregarious nature of a Sabathia. And he also comprehends that when it comes to postseason awards, that vibe isn’t going to do him any favors.
When Beckett curses during a post-game press conference, he knows what he's doing (and, if it was up to him, he would have the writers print his words verbatim). And if time is asked of him for some sort of quote on any other day other than either the game he pitches, or the one immediately after, the 29-year-old has accepted the backlash when the inquisitor is turned away.
Beckett knows how his job is best approached, how to be a good teammate, and that worrying about what people think isn’t going to be beneficial to the cause. As Sox’ outfielder Jason Bay explained, “He’s a (expletive) when he needs to be.” And while that won’t sway skeptical Cy Young voters, it will be a big reason why he finds himself in the conversation for the award once again.
‘HALLADAY IS DOING 20’
It’s not as if Beckett is day-dreaming while doodling pictures of the Cy Young Award, but the thing it represents has been put on a pedestal by the pitcher. Becoming the best is why finding the right process has become so important.
“I can’t say I’m not somebody who sets goals. I think everybody, when you get to this point in your life as a professional baseball player, has goals. But I try to stay in the moment,” Beckett explained. “I work toward something and the way you work toward something is to prepare yourself every day to be successful.”
It’s just that sometimes staying in the here and now -- which is undeniably Beckett’s biggest priority -- merges with what lies ahead. Case in point: his workouts with both his personal trainer, Randon Hayes, and Dave Page, the Red Sox’ strength and conditioning coach.
“During the offeseason, Randon harps on stuff, like, ‘You’ve got to do this. So and so is doing this and you’re sitting on your (butt),” Beckett explained. “And Pager gets on my (butt). I’ll do like 15 push-ups and he will yell over, ‘Halladay is doing 20!’ It’s fun, but it also gives you a little kick in the (butt).
“Those are the things that make me feel like I’m prepared. I’m not a big paperwork guy. I’m not studying those scouting reports to the tee. There are a few things I want to know off the scouting report, but I get my information and then I’m done with the scouting report. And then the four days in between my starts I prepare myself to feel like there’s no way I can lose on the day I pitch because I prepared harder. I did everything I could for the last four days to be successful and I can’t lose because I don’t want to waste all of that.”
Beckett has the most wins in the majors (14), the fifth-best ERA in the American League (3.10), the second-best batting average against in the AL (.227), and the fifth-most strikeouts in the league (145).
And if you take what he’s done after a less-than-stellar April, it becomes even more eye-opening. From May 5 to the present, there hasn’t been a more dominating pitcher in the American League, with the Red Sox’ ace totaling 12 wins, a 2.17 ERA and .208 batting average against, all tops among AL hurlers.
“Me and Brad [Penny] were talking one day in the outfield and decided that we were going to dig ourselves a hole and see if we could dig out of it,” joked Beckett, who was 2-2 with a 7.22 ERA after the season’s first month. “I remember throwing in the bullpen in Yankee Stadium (before his May 5 start) and I was keeping the ball down and just doing the things that I knew would make me successful. I try to simplify it as much as I can and make pitches when I need to. I think that’s what I’ve been doing, is making pitches when I need to.”
The overall dominance isn’t hard to discover, with Beckett not having allowed a home run in the five starts prior to his latest outing against Detroit. There are other relevant markers of success, such as holding the opponents’ No. 3 and 4 hitters to .217 and .215 batting averages, respectively.
But there have been some bumps in the road during this possible run toward Beckett’s first Cy Young. June 14, for instance, he fell apart in giving up seven runs on 11 hits in Philadelphia. Yet it was that moment, along with a smattering of others, which the Sox’ starter holds closest sifting through the most pertinent moments of his season.
“Those days just remind you what you’re doing,” he said. “You don’t want to have those days, but you learn more about yourself those days than the ones where you just breeze through.
“It’s easy when you feel good to do that and not get too far ahead of yourself. Yeah, I feel good right now. It’s easy whenever things are going good. It’s when you’re tested, and those tests come up over the course of the year and there’s nothing wrong with that because those are the types of things that make us different types of people. Everybody in this room has been in those situations. I’ve always said that you learn a lot more through failure than you do success. You learn about yourself, you learn about what you need to do. I can’t say that without those couple of starts in April I would be where I am right now because those things have allowed me to work on things and make sure I stayed on top of things.”
LIVING IN THE MOMENT
Good luck in trying to uncover the magic pitch or formula Beckett has embraced in helping him get to this -- perhaps his best -- season as a big leaguer. As he points out, simplicity isn’t sexy, but it is the answer to so many of his questions.
Not the past, not the future, but only the present.
“I don’t look behind. I don’t look ahead. I try and stay one pitch at a time and, in between starts, I try and stay one day at a time,” he explained. “Those are the things that make me successful. That’s what I’ve done so well is not to worry about what I’ve got coming up… I’m getting better at it. But if I start looking behind then I can’t help from keeping from looking too far ahead. And if I look too far ahead I can’t keep up. I have to manage my time and do the things I have to do.”
Wednesday, it was about facing each Detroit hitter, one a time. The result: Seven innings, two runs, three hits, and not much of a chance for the Tigers hitters. Thursday the priority was regrouping, fighting off an illness he had pitched with the day before, while trying to get in position to prepare for his next start, in Toronto.
Worrying about the image being portrayed to Cy Young voters by Justin Verlander on the Fenway mound on Thursday wasn’t a concern, and neither were the box scores with the names “Sabathia”, “Greinke” or “Halladay”.
There was work to be done.
“It’s all about me making my next start, that’s it,” Beckett explained. “I know people say, ‘He’s over-simplifying things’, but I’m not. That’s all I’m worried about.”
The Bradford Files appears every Friday. Rob Bradford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.