Nine days after his last start, Josh Beckett says he is doesn't feel well. The Red Sox seem to wonder. Terry Francona says "doctors are trying to figure it out". Is there an indisputable disconnect between the team and its unflashy pitcher?
Just wondering: Has Beckett now become to the Sox what "Medical" Bill Cartwright once was to the New York Knicks? Is it Beckett – or Beckout?
In case you missed it – though most didn't – Beckett was unable to start last Tuesday because of a stomach virus. His start was re-scheduled for this Saturday against National League pushovers, the Pittsburgh Pirates. News comes tonight that Beckett is still sick -- maybe he now has the flu -- and he will not be playing this weekend. Supposedly, he may pitch next week.
Before we go any further, we all need to understand something here. This is not solely about this season and about whether Beckett has "intestinal turmoil" or the flu. This goes well beyond that. During his break-out season of 2003 and on into 2004, Becket missed small chunks of time with various assorted ailments, including five stints on the disabled list because of blisters. He came to the Red Sox having earned a reputation of being someone who required a great deal of, well, maintenance.
And he was stubborn as a inbred mule. In his first season with the Red Sox, he willfully ignored the advice of catcher and clubhouse sage Jason Varitek and threw fastball after fastball after fastball, convinced his Texas heat could eventually blow away AL hitters, all the while allowing 36 home runs. After a more successful 2007, Francona spoke of how Beckett was beginning to understand the "responsibility" of playing in the American League East, which was a nice way of saying that Beckett had an obligation to his manager and teammates to maybe mix up his pitches a bit more.
Then came last season, when he had to pitch on a wet mound in New York, an assignment that clearly did not sit well with him. He lost his footing a few times in the muck and injured his back, and you could hear all the camo hats in Camp Kick-Ass groan simultaneously.
Well, if they didn't make him pitch in the rain, he wouldn't be hurt.
Blah, blah, blah.
At the moment, nobody should dispute that Beckett is in some level of discomfort. The greater question concerns if and when he can play through it. Beckett already has said that he expects to deal with the issue of germs all year – an alibi if he pitches poorly, no doubt.
Beckett, of course, is merely 31 and presumably has a healthy immune system. While it is always dangerous to wonder whether players are capable of playing through illness - the Red Sox would be wise to remember the case of Trot Nixon, who once vomited on Luis Sojo at second base – the issue here is clearly much bigger. In the minds of the Sox – and maybe others – Beckett has a reputation, something only he can be responsible for. Last year, sidelined by mononucleosis, Jed Lowrie openly wondered whether he still had a role on the Red Sox, but at least Lowrie's remarks were motivated by the desire to play, something that hardly makes him different from the majority of athletes.
In Beckett's case, the problem seems to be the opposite.
Does he want to pitch or doesn't he?