EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 28, 2006

Beckett done learning on the job for Sox

On Baseball

BOSTON - He dressed at his locker, well after the last question to David Ortiz had cleared the clubhouse of media. Josh Beckett's season was over, but the reflection had just begun.

The good: Career-highs in wins (16), starts (33), and innings pitched (2042/3).

The bad: The list is far too long, according to Beckett.

"I expect a lot of myself," he said after his ERA settled in just over 5.01, surrendering eight runs over 62/3 innings in Boston's 11-0 loss to Tampa Bay last night. "I get paid like one of the best baseball players in the world, and I expect to be one of the best baseball players in the world. I'm not out there just content going six innings giving up three runs every time, and everybody talking about how I had a quality start. I'm not interested in that.

"I expect a lot of myself. I expect to go deep into games and eventually when Curt (Schilling) leaves here - and who knows when that will be - I expect to be the opening day starter. That's what I want. These are all stepping stones towards that."

Beckett realizes his lot in life - the torch bearer of the future for the Red Sox's pitching staff. The minute he signed on the dotted line for his three-year, $30 million contract extension, and perhaps even six months before, he became the centerpiece for Boston's plan for the future.

But as Beckett fastened his last piece of jewelry and headed for the offseason, it became evident that spring training can't get here soon enough. The learning is over, now it's time for the doing.

"You don't forget stuff," he said. "You learn through all these starts, but ... I'll be sure that this start will be behind me."

One consistency for the 26-year-old this season was that he was usually always more enlightening after losses, choosing to face the music instead of singing his own praises. Last night's defeat was no different.

In front of the postgame media horde, Beckett came through once again. While consistency has been his Great White Whale on the playing field, there has been nobody more reliable in the Fenway Park interview room.

"I need to give it a couple of weeks and, you know, just think back. It was obviously some inconsistencies in there that I'm personally not used to," Beckett said. "I did 200 innings. There are a lot of positive things, there are obviously some [negative] things, like tonight. But you build off those things.

"I think I was really 'made' coming out of the game when Curt came up and kind of put it in perspective. He said some things like, 'I'm proud of you, you made every start.' It was nice. It put it in perspective for me.

"It's not a time to be mad, necessarily. I mean, obviously you're not happy with the results tonight, or what you did. But all in all, you look at it as a whole, and it was definitely a learning thing for me making all those starts."

Honesty and enlightenment, however, will only go so far, especially when you head into 2007 surrounded by a starting rotation of uncertainty and question marks.

This is why when the last piece of jewelry was affixed and his path out of the clubhouse was set, there wasn't much acceptance of the situation. Just when it appeared he had discovered his stride - boasting a 2.70 ERA in his last six starts - he tripped just before the finish line.

Beckett realizes what's at stake. He looks two lockers down and sees a pitcher in Jonathan Papelbon who is facing a monumental transformation, going from closer to top-of-the-rotation starter with the uncertainty of a shoulder injury.

A few more cubicles past Papelbon is the space vacated by another starter, Matt Clement, whose shoulder injury was compared by Dr. James Andrews - according to the pitcher's agent, Barry Axelrod - to that of the labrum/rotator cuff injury suffered by New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.

Down at the very end of the row of lockers are two starters, Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling, who will be both in their 40s by the time the Fort Myers fields are filled next February.

Nobody said it was going to be easy. For Beckett, it hasn't been so far, and the road certainly isn't smoothing out come next spring.

"I was real proud of his work ethic," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "You know, he had some bumps on the road that we've talked about a lot. I think he is good enough to eliminate some of those bumps on the road next year and turn a 15-win season into a 20.

"I think he is capable of doing that. ... I think he wants to do that."