For all the bad things that have been said – and deservedly so – about Josh Beckett over the course of the last two weeks, there is a simple solution for the problem on both ends. There’s a way for fans to willingly get off Beckett’s case, and there’s a way for Beckett to help those fans – the one’s he despises so much – do just that.
Care to guess what it is? How about just being Josh Beckett.
Well, on the mound that is. He’s already doing a pretty good job of being Josh Beckett everywhere else (inexplicably being a dick to everybody he crosses paths with, for instance). But none of it will matter – the golf, the defiance, the chicken and beer, the lack of leadership, the fact that he still appears out of shape, the fake-tough attitude, the hunt for the rat in the Red Sox clubhouse – if he just goes about and pitches like he did for the first five months of last season.
It’s as simple as that. He’s slotted to take the hill today, Tuesday, against the woeful Seattle Mariners for the first time since being booed off the mound by the fans at Fenway last Thursday. All eyes – and even more boos – will be on the guy who golfed during his off-day despite being injured two weeks ago, then came back to put on the worst display of pitching (2.1 innings pitched, seven earned runs against the Indians) in a Red Sox uniform since Kyle Weiland captured the hearts of Boston fans by surrendering upwards of 10 runs a start during last year’s pennant race.
If he pitches well, the boos will still come, but they’ll be combined with the scattered cheers of Red Sox fans who just want to win, even if that means rooting for players like Beckett. Winning fixes everything, and if Beckett starts to help this team win then most of his transgressions will be forgiven, albeit begrudgingly.
That’s what I don’t think Beckett understands. In his stubborn, potentially devil-worshipping mind, you’re either with him, or your against him. There’s no in-between. It’s Josh Beckett versus the world, and if you don’t stand by him through thick and thin then you might as well be a Communist in America during the Cold War. You are enemy No. 1.
But why would fans be with him when he acts this way AND compounds it by pitching this way? It wouldn’t make sense.
And that’s the heart of the issue. We are absolutely willing to put up with basically any level of crap, as long as the results are there. If the results are bad – seemingly because of all the shit going on behind the scenes (and that’s what the perception is right now) – then it’s infringing on the very reason that we watch the team in the first place: To be rewarded for our dedicated interest with a winning product.
Think about last year. Despite how horrifically bad he was in 2010 – and he was Weiland-bad for basically the entire season, until the team put him out of his misery by shutting him down – Red Sox fans were thrilled with everything he did through the middle of August in 2011. He was headed for a third-place finish in the American League Cy Young voting and he was setting the tone for the rest of the pitching staff. I wouldn’t quite say that every time Beckett took the mound it was must-see TV, but it was still somewhat of an event.
If you got tickets to a game and tried to look down the line to see who might be pitching, and it turned out to be Beckett, you were thrilled. It was the best scenario out there. Now? Finding out that Beckett is pitching warrants going down to your local grocery store and picking up a paper bag to wear in to the stadium.
It’s only been about three months of actual baseball time since we revered Beckett.
But there’s still a path back to looking forward to his starts. It begins and ends with him toughening up, taking the ball and shutting down an opponent for once.
He’s got a golden opportunity tonight. He’s facing the Seattle Mariners, a team that hits about as well as Beckett has pitched so far this year – not good. The Sox are feeling good about the way they’re playing as a unit, coming off four straight wins, and the starting pitching has been reason No. 1 for the team’s hot streak.
Jon Lester threw a complete game last night. Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront were both serviceable – if not good – the two nights prior to that, and Clay Buchholz actually made it into the seventh inning on Friday.
Now it’s Beckett’s turn. The fans are angry at him, but they’re starting to warm up – slowly – to the team itself. Like I said before, winning cures these things, and the same fans who were claiming they were going to boycott the team (me) are now sitting down in front of the TV at 7 p.m. to watch again. All it took was four straight wins against mediocre opponents, and hope is back.
We want to cheer Josh Beckett tonight. I want to cheer Josh Beckett tonight. I want to see him walk off the mound – pissed for no reason, but whatever – after seven innings of three-hit ball, and I want to get excited because the Red Sox are going to win their fifth straight.
That’s all it will take, for now, to quiet the critics. Go out and pitch like you can Josh, and we’ll all shut up. Pitch like shit again, and we’ll all point to your attitude and demand you be traded.
Black and white. We want the Red Sox to win, and if you can help them do that, then we’re for you, no matter how entitled you come off. If not, we’re against you, and we know how much you seem to enjoy that.
Really, we’re not asking for all that much.
Get more great sports analysis over at Extra Pine Tar.