Josh Beckett never flinched.
When the towel-waving crazies filled his ears with noise, he ignored them.
When Kenny Lofton challenged him, he walked away.
And when his singing ex-girlfriend belted out a couple tunes &
once with him standing only 100 feet away &
Beckett kept humming along.
The star of stars this October, Beckett blocked out everything and delivered yet another brilliant pitching performance to lift the Boston Red Sox to a 7-1 win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the AL championship series Thursday night.
A 20-game winner and Cy Young favorite, Beckett made sure the Red Sox, no strangers to comebacks, would live to fight another day.
"The motto in the clubhouse right now is it's better to die on your feet than live on your knees," Beckett said, using a famous quote from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to underscore his team's win-or-else plight.
Beckett, standing tall as ever on the mound, dominated Cleveland for the second time and enigmatic slugger Manny Ramirez drove in the go-ahead run with a 390-foot single as the Red Sox stayed alive.
So it's back to Fenway Park, where two more wins can return the Red Sox to the World Series.
"We weren't trying to win three games in one night," said Kevin Youkilis, whose homer in the first inning off C.C. Sabathia set the tone. "We were just going out there to do whatever we had to do to win."
The best thing Boston did was hand the ball to Beckett, who improved to 3-0 this postseason and added another gem to a sparkling resume that already stands among the best in baseball's hallowed month.
"He's the best," David Ortiz said. "We were confident with him going out there. He was unbelievable. It was one of the best pitching performances I've seen."
Faced with an earlier exit than they planned, the Red Sox came up big.
Clearly, Ramirez Co. cared.
"We made it happen," Ramirez said.
The Red Sox have done it before.
In 2004, Boston rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees and went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in four straight for its first World Series title since 1918.
The Red Sox forced Game 6 on Saturday night, and will turn to Curt Schilling, 9-3 in 17 career postseason starts, against Fausto Carmona.
Boston still trails 3-2, but if not for the calm, cool and cocky Beckett, there would be no more baseball until spring.
"Josh is unbelievable," Youkilis said.
The 27-year-old Beckett, who beat Cleveland in the opener, once again came through with the stakes at their highest.
He allowed only a run and three hits in the first, and then just two more hits before leaving after eight marvelous innings. He struck out 11, walked one and was around the plate with almost every one of his 109 pitches.
"He's got something others don't have," third baseman Mike Lowell said. "There is a different feel for us when he takes the mound. Time and time again he comes through."
Unless they can find a way to win again at Fenway, the Indians will think about what might have been, and their fans will add Beckett to a long list of players who have denied Cleveland a possible championship.
"We just couldn't get that big hit off him," Indians first baseman Ryan Garko said. "A lot of credit goes to Josh for making good pitches when he needed to."
In 2003, Beckett pitched a two-hitter for Florida in Game 5 of the NLCS as the Marlins rallied from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Chicago Cubs. Then, pitching on just three days' rest in Game 6 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, he allowed five hits in a 2-0 win and was named MVP.
If the Red Sox can win two more, he might have another trophy for his mantle.
"We know what we have to do now," said Beckett, 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA this October. "This is not where we want to be, but obviously, we're inching closer to where we want to be."
Cleveland, which hasn't won the Series since 1948, had won three straight to seemingly take control. But the Indians, trying to clinch a pennant at home for the first time, could do little against Beckett, who rarely shook off a sign from catcher Jason Varitek and kept hitters guessing with a rocket fastball and knee-buckling curve.
With so much on the line, both teams were on edge and tempers flared briefly in the fifth when Beckett and Lofton screamed at each other.
Cleveland's outfielder had flipped his bat to the ground after what he thought was ball four, and when Beckett retired him on a fly, the pair exchanged words and both benches and bullpens emptied.
The two got into a similar argument two years ago, when Lofton was with Philadelphia and Beckett with Florida.
"It goes back a way," Beckett said. "Those things have a way of working themselves out."
No punches were thrown, and if Lofton was trying to rattle Beckett, he didn't.
"He doesn't like it when I take my bat and flip it," Lofton said. "He's the only pitcher who's had a problem with it. He was saying stuff I didn't like, and I said something back."
Beckett then struck out Franklin Gutierrez looking before Casey Blake singled and went to third when Grady Sizemore's single. But Beckett fanned Asdrubal Cabrera on three pitches, and the rookie smacked his bat on the plate in disgust.
For Sabathia, the Indians' ace and leader, it was more disappointment. He allowed four runs and 10 hits in six-plus innings, his third straight sub-par performance this month.
"I don't think we're going into Boston on a downer," he said. "I can live with this. I thought I made some good pitches."
A day after he rankled Red Sox fans by saying "Who cares?" if Boston were to lose, Ramirez struck back.
With Ortiz on in the third, Ramirez sent Sabathia's first pitch to center, where Grady Sizemore went back to the wall. But as he reached up, Ramirez's shot caromed back onto the field.
Ortiz scored easily, but Ramirez, thinking his shot was long gone, was only rounding first when the Indians retrieved the ball. Boston manager Terry Francona argued it should have been a two-run homer, but after a brief meeting, the umpires kept Ramirez at first.
Slow-motion replays were inconclusive, and the ground rules at Jacobs Field state that a ball must completely clear the yellow line at the top of the wall for it to be a homer.
Whatever the outcome, it was Manny being Manny &
"I asked, 'Manny why aren't you on second,'" Garko said.
The Indians insisted it wasn't intentional, but the club invited country singer Danielle Peck, an ex-girlfriend of Beckett's, to sing the national anthem and "God Bless America" on the night her former beau took the mound.
Peck was a fill-in for another singer, but her appearance didn't seem to break Beckett's concentration.
"I don't get paid to make those (expletive) decisions," Beckett barked. "She's a friend of mine, that doesn't bother me at all. Thanks for flying one of my friends to the game so she could watch it for free."
The Red Sox drew their fourth bases-loaded walk, tying a postseason record shared by the 1945 Detroit Tiger and 1931 Philadelphia Athletics. ... Schilling flew back before the game to get ready for his start. ... Beckett went 16 2-3 innings without a walk this postseason before issuing one in the second.
Beckett blows away Indians in 7-1 win