Last night, Josh wasn't pouring on the gas quite as much as we've seen him do in the past. His fastball clocked in at about 92 or 93, 94 tops. I still don't know if I should be worried about that, or what.
That fastball had action on it at times that was simply eye-popping. Hitter after hitter for Detroit was frozen in the wake of a ball that would seem as though it was headed in at about chest level, and then dive, unbidden, into the zone for a called strike. Many of them cursed visibly at the experience.
Setting off that sidewinding fastball main course were two exquisite side dishes: a curveball in the mid-seventies and a changeup in the low 80's.
It's amazing how things can change in just a few years. When the Sox first traded Hanley Ramirez for Beckett, I didn't like the deal one bit. Not at all. I sized Josh up as a pigheaded, immature, DL frequent flyer. (Even as recently as last night, I was a participant in a vociferous discussion about the shortstop-sized hole in our hearts since Nomar--not that we'd ever question the trade, mind you, but we've been missing something to fill that gap ever since, and this revolving door has only led us to misery.)
Then, in 2006, I seriously thought about creating a dartboard with Josh Beckett's face on it. I know I joked around about it here some, but I mean literally. Seriously. I contemplated carrying out that little arts and crafts project, for real.
In some ways, I think I was taking out my frustration with a frustrating season on this guy I'd never wanted in the first place, who wasn't one of the 25, and therefore fair game. I'd seen quite a few other players fail to satisfy who'd been just as well-advertised, after all, and so far didn't have convincing evidence he'd be any different.
But what really baked my biscuits about Josh was the fact that it was quite obviously not a matter of talent with him. Every few starts, he'd pitch a gem that had me grudgingly conceding I'd been too harsh. And then he'd start a road game, give up a bunch of six-run homers, and all of it seemed to be because he just couldn't get off the fastball.
To this day I think it was at least partially a matter of maturity and even a little bit of truly malignant arrogance (as opposed to the normal level of egotism that seems to be necessary for a power pitcher). For him, it seemed that conceding, perhaps the game had been a little different in the National League, perhaps he could no longer simply blow it past 'em, whether it was for reasons of age or fatigue or heightened competition, was, I still think, a very hard thing for him to do. I think there's been just as much of a mental process going on with him as a physical or a mechanical one, for all his talk about just executing pitches.
But in the intervening years, there's been talk of his blister problem, and how he'd avoided the curveball because it literally rubbed him the wrong way. He also made a startlingly obvious overhaul of his mechanics before re-emerging as Commander Kickass in 2007. I have realized that it wasn't all just a matter of him being a big jerkface, and admit to chagrin that I ever perceived it as such.
Last year, when I first began to realize this transformation had taken place, the cognitive dissonance was overpowering at times. Off the field, he still seemed like a total jerk at times. On the field, he'd become the most beautiful pitcher I'd seen since Pedro Martinez, and I don't make that comparison lightly. The gifts, and moreover, the sheer power that Josh has been blessed with, all in one flawlessly coordinated package, are truly rare. It's still a part of his swagger; he has worked tremendously hard, but that's on top of the fact that genetically, he won the lottery, and he must have known it since he was 16 years old.
Since then, cognitive dissonance has given way little by little to fascination, and admiration, for the way he's turned out. I understand more now than I did when he was acquired about what's gone into his development, just because I've learned a little more about the game, what pitchers do, and how they do it. While I still maintain my armchair psychoanalysis to a certain extent, I've learned that it wasn't the ONLY reason for his early struggles, and realized that all of it had probably been anticipated, and accepted, by the one who did the trade. I further realize that this outcome was also probably the plan all along, and while there had been the obvious risk of that plan failing, someone had seen clear to this masterpiece Josh would become.
So I feel the need to say to Theo (even if only figuratively) once and for all: I'm stupid. You're smart. I was wrong. You were right. You're the best. I'm the worst. You're very good-looking. I'm not very attractive.
They brought him in, sanded down his rough edges, cleaned him up, got him to stop swearing into microphones, and finally, finally taught him that it totally did not make him a wuss to throw an off-speed pitch every once in a while.
Then the 2007 postseason happened. And I was history.
Nights when Josh is pitching now, I sometimes fast-forward through the Red Sox at bats if I'm watching on TiVo, and sometimes wish I could if I'm watching live. I want them to get their business done, of course, and will stop if someone hits a tremendous bomb or nice-looking double, but I look forward to seeing Josh's halves of innings like a special treat all week. When they finally arrive, I just want to sit down and watch every single moment of him pitching. That's all I want to do--see which way that ball's going to break this time.