Beckett, Red Sox hope to win back trust of fans
Starter aware of responsibility in taking ball for home opener
BOSTON -- It's hard to imagine all the developments that have taken place since the last time the Red Sox played a baseball game at Fenway Park.
First came the collapse, and it was both epic and historic. Then came the fallout, which included the end of the most successful general manager-manager tandem (Theo Epstein, Terry Francona) in club history, followed by the promotion of Ben Cherington and the hiring of Bobby Valentine.
And there was a different kind of fallout that really impacted the perception of the team. There were reports -- later substantiated -- about a lack of professionalism in the clubhouse, highlighted by starting pitchers drinking beer and eating fried chicken during games they weren't pitching in rather than supporting their teammates in the midst of a pennant race.
Fair or not, Josh Beckett became the poster child for the misbehavior in the clubhouse, perhaps because he has been perceived as the leader of the pitching staff for the past several years. So maybe it's only fitting that Beckett is the one who takes the mound for Boston when it plays its first of 81 games at Fenway Park in Friday afternoon's home opener against Tampa Bay.
It was Beckett who said at the beginning of Spring Training that the Red Sox had to earn back the trust of their rabid fans. Fans might feel a little less trusting, considering the Sox have opened this season with five losses in the first six games.
But Beckett knows that the best way to do that is to improve performance and get back to the way things were in the not too distant past.
During the pomp and circumstance of the home opener festivities, Beckett won't be able to run out to the first-base line during introductions. Instead, public address announcer Carl Beane will boom into his microphone, "Warming up in the bullpen, pitching for the Red Sox, No. 19, Josh Beckett."
Will cheers, jeers or a mixture follow that sentence from Beane?
"I can't control that," Beckett said. "I'm really not trying to control that. I just have to go out there and make pitches. We have to deal with whatever is thrown our way. I'm going to pitch well for my teammates. If the fans don't want me pitching, I've got to pitch well for my teammates."
Beckett didn't pitch well for anyone in his first start of the season, as he got shellacked to the tune of seven runs and five homers over 4 2/3 innings against the Tigers.
"Any time you pitch [poorly], you look forward to your next one," Beckett said. "I think it's easier to sit back and relax a little more in between starts after a good one. For me, the extra day gets thrown in there this time with all the off-days. Yeah, I'm looking forward to getting out there. I'm just looking forward to getting to Boston, period."
The timing of Beckett's poor start couldn't have been worse. In the days leading up to it, Red Sox Nation panicked when he went to three doctors to get his right thumb examined.
But Beckett has been emphatic that the thumb is something he's been dealing with for a while, and he says it had no bearing on the way he pitched in Detroit. Keep in mind that Beckett struggled in his first start last year and bounced back by firing a gem against the Yankees in his second start.
"You go from Florida to cold weather," Beckett said. "Not an excuse, but some people deal with it better. Last year, it was in Cleveland. You don't have the same feel. I've done both -- pitched good at the beginning of the year, and then my next start was [bad]. It's tough [in the first start] with all the hoopla and everything like that. It's almost like pitching in October, where everybody is locked in because you're always excited. The Opening Day stuff lasts for two, three days. For me, you've just got to get back on the horse."
It just so happens that that proverbial horse lands Beckett another Fenway opener, marking the fifth time in the righty's seven seasons with the Red Sox he gets that honor. Beckett turned in tremendous performances while winning the Fenway openers of 2006, '07 and '09. He struggled against the Yankees in '10, and took a no-decision.
One thing Beckett can promise is that he loves the atmosphere of Opening Day in Boston and feels honored to take the ball.
"It's unbelievable," Beckett said. "The coolest thing is when you're driving up and all the people are already there, it's definitely unique. Especially with those nerves and everything you have going into that anyhow, and then you show up and it looks like everybody's been there all night. Yawkey Way is just jam-packed full of people.
"You have to wait at crosswalks over on Boylston Street. You have to experience it. I know that everybody gets to drive up there. But nobody gets to drive up there knowing they're pitching that game. That's what makes it really unique."
No matter what the reception might be at the start of the game, Beckett will leave to a standing ovation if he pitches well. Valentine and pitching coach Bob McClure both think he's in position to do just that.
"He had a really good bullpen [session on Tuesday]," Valentine said. "Bob worked with him. I think they got a lot of things ironed out where they felt really good about where he should be, and I think the thumb thing seems to be a moot point right now, so I look forward to him pitching again.
"You know, second time through the rotation is always an interesting thing. You talk about establishing things, we want to establish starting pitchers pitching well so we have that starting base to build on, and the offense starts clicking a little early in the games and everything will be rocking and rolling."
In other words, the Red Sox want to get back to the way things were before last September.
And nobody craves that rejuvenation more than Beckett.
"Obviously losing is never fun," Beckett said. "It's [tough] to start out the way we have. All the guys are still pulling for each other. It's kind of fun to watch. I think we've got a really good group here."