Josh Beckett, America. America, Josh Beckett.

Sunday afternoon, a 23-year-old right-hander from Texas cleared his throat and introduced himself to the world. With his team inches from elimination and a network…er, nation…rooting wildly for the opposition, Beckett tossed one of the greatest postseason starts in recent memory. striking out 11 men and not allowing any Cub past first base.

Beckett’s performance stands out not only for its quality, but for its context. By game scores, it’s the third-best start in the 35-year history of League Championship Series play:

Date      Pitcher            IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO    GS
10/14/00  Roger Clemens     9.0   1   0   0   2  15    98
10/05/69  Dave McNally     11.0   3   0   0   5  11    97
10/12/03  Josh Beckett      9.0   2   0   0   1  11    93 *
10/09/73  Ken Holtzman     11.0   3   1   1   1   7    93
10/16/01  Randy Johnson     9.0   3   0   0   1  11    91
10/12/97  Livan Hernandez   9.0   3   1   1   2  15    90
10/08/86  Mike Scott        9.0   5   0   0   1  14    90
10/14/86  Nolan Ryan        9.0   2   1   1   1  12    90
10/08/74  Vida Blue         9.0   2   0   0   0   7    90

Of course, this wasn’t just any postseason start. Beckett took the mound hoping to extend the Marlins’ season by one more game. Viewed in that light, his performance was one of the most clutch ever by a pitcher. Here are the top starts by pitchers on the brink of elimination in any postseason series since 1969:

Date      Pitcher            IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO    GS
10/12/03  Josh Beckett      9.0   2   0   0   1  11    93 *
10/15/97  Mike Mussina      8.0   1   0   0   2  10    88
10/10/72  Ross Grimsley     9.0   2   1   1   0   5    84
10/27/91  Jack Morris      10.0   7   0   0   2   8    84
10/10/72  Joe Coleman       9.0   7   0   0   3  14    84
10/16/91  Steve Avery       8.0   3   0   0   2   8    82
10/17/91  John Smoltz       9.0   6   0   0   1   8    82
10/21/93  Curt Schilling    9.0   5   0   0   3   6    80
10/12/88  Orel Hershiser    9.0   5   0   0   2   5    80

Honorable mention should go to Pedro Martinez, who entered Game Five of the 1999 Division Series in the fourth inning and threw six no-hit frames, racking up eight strikeouts and pitching the Red Sox into the ALCS.

(Thanks to Retrosheet for making this research possible.)

Beckett’s performance was especially satisfying given how badly the Marlins’ rotation has been treated in this series. In the first four games, starters who had posted a regular-season ERA of 3.56 combined to allow 21 runs in 17 1/3 innings, posting a 10.90 ERA. The lack of good starting pitching, which has been a key element of the Marlins’ run to mid-October, was killing them in the NLCS. Beckett ended that.

Credit the Cubs for hitting well, of course. The biggest mark against them coming into the series was whether they would score enough runs to support their strong rotation. With 33 runs in the series’ first four games, the Cubs didn’t just score enough runs to win; they hit like they hadn’t done almost all year long. Only twice during the year had the Cubs had this kind of production over four games; once in April, against the Reds, and once in July against the Marlins and Braves. Their weakness has become a strength in this series, which is a good way to find yourself worried about champagne stains and ring sizes.

Game Six is tomorrow night in Chicago. Toward the end of Game Five, the Fox announcers were speculating on who the Marlins would start against Mark Prior. Al Leiter nailed it: the Fish have to start Carl Pavano. Brad Penny hasn’t had a good outing in the playoffs, while Pavano has been very good out of the bullpen. Despite Penny having the stronger pedigree, Pavano was his equal in 2003, perhaps even a bit better. He should have been in the rotation all along. Jack McKeon can’t do anything about that now, but he can give his team the best chance to win their next game: starting Pavano does that.

One of the reasons I didn’t write for Sunday was that I was hoping to avoid the whole issue of Saturday’s Yankee/Red Sox mess. With yesterday’s rainout, there’s not much more to discuss, so let me provide my careful analysis:

  • Karim Garcia acted like a moron
  • Then Pedro Martinez acted like a moron
  • Then Manny Ramirez acted like a moron
  • Then Don Zimmer acted like a moron.

Got all that?

Martinez’s decision to expedite a semi-intentional walk at Garcia’s expense was dangerous and classless. However, Garcia’s late, borderline dirty slide at second base a couple of batters after being hit by Martinez is what restarted a situation that had cooled down.

Martinez then got into a ridiculous shouting match with the Yankees’ bench, threatening to hit Jorge Posada in the head.

Manny Ramirez is wonderful hitter, but he completely lost his mind when Roger Clemens threw a high fastball to him in the bottom of the fourth. The pitch wasn’t even inside; had it been down in the zone, it might have been a strike. Or a double. Ramirez’ complete loss of control over a non-issue was perhaps the dumbest thing in the sequence.

Well, in the player division, anyway.

I know Don Zimmer has become this cuddly-cute baseball icon, especially in New York, but the man ran across the field and took a swing at the opposing starting pitcher. Martinez, in an impossible situation with a 72-year-old man bearing down on him, did the best he could to deflect Zimmer’s blow without taking aggressive action. Unfortunately for Martinez, he pushed Zimmer to the ground in the process, which made him look like a bully.

Of all the inexcuable behavior that occurred Saturday afternoon, Zimmer’s actions were the most out of line. The Yankees milked the situation by having Zimmer taken to the hospital in an ambulance. I know they said he was dizzy and had a pulled muscle, but it looked for all the world like a publicity stunt designed to make Martinez and the Red Sox look as bad as possible.

I’m not excusing anyone, but take the individual names off of the page and just describe what happened: a coach ran across the field and tried to punch the other team’s starting pitcher. Just because the coach has been in baseball since before chewing tobacco and the pitcher was a jerk who might well have deserved to be decked doesn’t change the fundamental fact that the act was so far out of line as to be absurd. The situation could have been so much worse; it’s entirely possible that Martinez could have hurt himself dodging the blow, in which case you would have had the Sox’ ace taken out of the game by the Yankees’ bench coach.

Zimmer should be suspended. What he did was abhorrent, and should not be excused because of his age, his popularity, his tenure, or the idiocy of Pedro Martinez.

Hopefully, the day of rain gave MLB a chance to confiscate the supply of stupid pills, and the two teams will get back to baseball tonight.

The rainout helps the Red Sox. While the Yankees will move Mike Mussina up to start tonight on four days’ rest, there’s not enough difference among the four Yankee starters to say that any changes are notable. The Sox, however, can skip their #4 starter, John Burkett, and use Game One winner Tim Wakefield on full rest in Game Four. Then they can bring Derek Lowe back Tuesday on full rest to start at Fenway Park, where he’s been more effective this year. The Yankees will not get the chance to eliminate the Sox without seeing one of their big two.

What the rainout shouldn’t do is change Pedro Martinez’s schedule. He really hasn’t been impressive in his three postseason starts, and his extensive use of breaking balls Saturday afternoon is a warning sign that something isn’t right. No matter what situation the Sox find themselves in Wenesday, they should hold back Martinez to start a potential Game Seven on full rest. He appears to need it right now. Game Six can be a cast of thousands, with everyone from Jeff Suppan to Todd Jones to Mike Torrez taking a run at getting some outs.

Tonight, we get the Game One matchup again. Mike Mussina wasn’t sharp last week, surrendering three home runs in six innings. I think he’ll be better tonight while Wakefield is worse. Yankees win, 6-3.

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