Editor's note: NESN.com is going to tell the story of the 2012 Red Sox in Bobby Valentine's words. Each game day, we will select a Valentine quote that sums up the day for the Red Sox.
Josh Beckett isn't a stranger to controversy.
He's been at the center of some of the Red Sox' greatest moments but has also attracted plenty of grumbling. Fans squirm when he doesn't perform, and they shout when he sticks to his way, refusing to acquiesce to how others say he should act or respond.
This season has been no different.
But, as Beckett showed in a completely dominating performance on Tuesday, controversy doesn't have to be a problem. This Red Sox pitcher thrives on the inopportune, luring in the discord then jumping on it and conquering doubts.
Of all of the issues Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine has had to wade through this season, situations involving Beckett may be the most interesting. That's because Valentine — known for his game tinkering and tendency to tweak players with strong words or other motivational tactics — has been quietly supportive of Beckett all season. It hasn't just been Beckett’s intensity that has turned controversy into wins this season — it's been his manager letting Beckett be the one to determine how the situations resolve themselves.
Most fans are in tune with the most recent controversy, where Beckett played golf on the Red Sox' off day during the same time frame where he was skipped for a start due to a lingering injury. The outcry from fans was large and definite — and perhaps more vitriolic than usual, considering any and all scapegoats were needed for a 12-18 start to the season.
But it wasn't the first time Beckett has taken the heat from Red Sox Nation. It wasn't even the first time this season.
It's a distant memory now, but when Opening Day arrived, Beckett was at the center of another controversy. The Red Sox had just lost closer Andrew Bailey to injury, and news surfaced that Beckett wasn't completely healthy, either. He had a thumb problem — one he had known about for quite some time.
Murmurs began about why Beckett hadn't disclosed the injury, and how it would affect the Sox.
The way Beckett responded then and now shows why Beckett has been and will continue to be a valuable asset to the Red Sox. This man doesn't just pitch well and provide occasional fire for the team. Critics will chirp about the clubhouse and how they think Beckett has caused trouble for Boston, but Beckett's way of answering criticism with his play shows that his leadership can still produce results — both for himself and his team.
Valentine has been a supporter of Beckett since the new manager came to Boston. Valentine stood by the starter when the thumb injury arose, and he had Beckett's back after the pitcher's first start, a woeful 4 2/3 innings where Beckett allowed seven earned runs as the Red Sox fell to 0-2. (Beckett denied the thumb had a role in the loss.)
No one knows what Valentine does behind the scenes in the manager's all-important role of keeping the clubhouse cohesive and competitive, but concerning Beckett, Valentine has looked like he's done the right thing all year. He backed Beckett early, and he backed him again after the most recent controversy, saying that whatever Beckett's choices were, he wasn't trying to hurt the team.
After Beckett's first bad start, during the thumb injury, Valentine stuck by his pitcher and let Beckett's assessment be the one everyone heard. Beckett responded by logging five straight quality starts, pitching eight innings in one game, seven in the next, six twice, then six and two-thirds.
Then the golf injury arose, and Valentine again stuck by Beckett and let the pitcher answer the critics himself. Again, Beckett put up a poor outing immediately following the outcry. He lasted just 2 1/3 innings against the Indians, getting booed off the field as he allowed seven earned runs. He was petulant after the outing, insisting that he could do what he needed to do to pitch well.
On Tuesday, Beckett proved himself right. He logged one of the best performances of all season for the Red Sox, going seven innings on 93 pitches, striking out nine and allowing just four hits. He picked up his third win of the season — and validated his manager's backing — in the process.
"He just looked like he took control of the game," Valentine said. "He just went out there and wanted everyone to know he was Josh Beckett, including the opposition."
Beckett is a self-motivator, a man who can channel his intensity into great performances. He's done it before, and now he's done it twice this season.
"He had a great presence all week," Valentine said. "David Ortiz whispered in our ear today and said, 'Watch him pitch' in the second inning."
By then, Beckett was mowing them down — Mariners and critics alike.
And, watching silently from the clubhouse, was the manager who's had his back all season.
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