BOSTON Josh Beckett is Mr. Zero when October rolls around.
The MVP of the 2003 World Series pitched his second consecutive postseason shutout and, backed by a home run from David Ortiz, led the Boston Red Sox over the Los Angeles Angels 4-0 Wednesday night in their AL playoff opener.
Beckett retired 19 consecutive batters after a leadoff single, allowed just four hits and ran his postseason scoreless streak to 18 innings. The last time he pitched on such a stage, he blanked the New York Yankees to clinch the '03 Series for Florida.
The previous pitcher with consecutive postseason shutouts was current teammate Curt Schilling, who accomplished the feat with the Phillies in 1993 and Arizona in 2001. Christy Mathewson is the only pitcher with four postseason shutouts; Beckett tied Whitey Ford and Mordecai Brown with three.
"I was ahead of a lot of guys," Beckett said. "They've got a lot of guys, those guys that foul a lot of pitches off and I just didn't want to get wrapped up in trying to strike a lot of guys out, because those are the at-bats that end up killing your pitch count and you're out after 5 1-3 because you've got 120 pitches."
Ortiz, who eliminated the Angels with a 10th-inning, series-ending homer in the first round of the 2004 playoffs,
homered off John Lackey. Kevin Youkilis set the tone with a homer in the first inning against the Angels ace.
The victory was Boston's seventh straight in the postseason over the California-Anaheim-Los Angeles Angels, having come back from a 3-1 deficit to win in the 1986 AL playoffs and then sweeping them in the 2004 best-of-five first round.
The only 20-game winner in the majors this year, Beckett struck out eight and walked none. He has three shutouts in six postseason starts and two in 166 regular-season starts.
"That guy was very impressive. He's been like that all year," Ortiz said.
Beckett is 3-2 with a 1.74 ERA in the postseason. He became the first Boston pitcher to toss a postseason shutout since Luis Tiant beat Cincinnati 6-0 with a five-hitter in the opener of the 1975 World Series.
"He's hard on himself and he feels like he should be perfect out there," Youkilis said about Beckett. "I think that's one of the things that helps him."
Lackey allowed four runs, nine hits and two walks, striking out four in six innings.
Game 2 will be Friday, with rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka facing the Angels' Kelvim Escobar.
The Red Sox sell out every night these days, and their fans tend to treat every game like the postseason even, if the Yankees are involved, during spring training. So the ballpark didn't seem any different, except for the red, white and blue bunting hanging from the upper deck and the temporary photographers' boxes in front of the first row.
That, and the fact that Beckett was on top of his game.
Just like last time.
In his first postseason appearance since coming back on three days' rest to shut out the Yankees, Beckett gave up a leadoff single to Chone Figgins and then retired the next 19 batters. The 6-foot-5 right-hander allowed a single to Vladimir Guerrero with one out in the seventh and the crowd applauded politely, as if a no-hitter had been broken up.
"He was throwing the ball better than he has at any point in the season. He was in control of himself," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
Howie Kendrick singled in the seventh and Guerrero had another hit with two outs in the ninth. But Beckett got Garret Anderson to fly out to center field, and the Red Sox were celebrating another playoff victory over the Angels.
Lackey had some October success of his own, winning Game 7 of the '02 Series to clinch the title for the Angels. But this right-handed Texan also had a more ominous history to live down: He is 1-7 against the Red Sox and 1-5 at Fenway Park, and on Wednesday his struggles continued.
Youkilis, who was 0-for-2 as a backup during Boston's '04 World Series run, hit Lackey's sixth pitch over the Green Monster in left-center to make it 1-0. In the third inning, Youkilis doubled, and Ortiz followed with a line drive down the right-field line and into the stands for a 3-0 lead.
"This is his time of year, too," Youkilis said. "When David's confidence is high, this team succeeds."It was the ninth career postseason homer for Ortiz, tying Jason Varitek for the franchise record.
American League Division Series
Boston vs. Los Angeles
Wednesday, Oct. 3
Boston 4, Los Angeles 0
Los Angeles at Boston, 6:37 p.m.
Boston at Los Angeles, 1:07 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 8
Boston at Los Angeles, 7:37 p.m. *
Wednesday, Oct. 10
Los Angeles at Boston, 6:37 p.m. *
* if necessary