Beckett retires first nine Expos in Marlins' opener

Updated: April 6, 2004, 6:42 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- Josh Beckett knows each of his starts will be overanalyzed this season and expectations for him are great. Such is the life of a World Series hero.

If his first meaningful game since that memorable Game 6 in New York last fall was any indication, Beckett appears ready for the limelight.

The right-hander struck out nine and allowed only one run in seven innings Tuesday, helping Florida open defense of its championship by beating Montreal 4-3.

"Everybody's looking at everybody in this clubhouse a little bit differently now," Beckett said. "I think everybody's got to step it up. Miguel Cabrera, they want him to drive in 100 and hit 30 home runs. They want me to go out there and win 100 games. We can't set that on our shoulders. We've just got to go out there, play baseball and do whatever it takes to win."

Following a raucous ovation from the crowd of 55,315, Beckett -- last year's Series MVP after shutting out the Yankees in the title-clincher -- set a dominant tone.

He retired the first nine batters he faced, mixing up an array of fastballs and off-speed pitches to keep Montreal guessing. He left with a 2-1 lead, but Florida's bullpen couldn't finish his win off.

"That kid, every time you see him, he surprises you," said Expos second baseman Jose Vidro, who had two of the four hits Montreal got off Beckett. "I think he's got everything."

Beckett was first tested in the fourth after allowing Peter Bergeron and Vidro to single on consecutive pitches. No problem: he struck Carl Everett out swinging, got Orlando Cabrera to loft a lazy fly ball to left field, then got Brad Wilkerson to flail away for another strikeout.

In the sixth, miffed after allowing Vidro to connect on a run-scoring double, he finished the inning off with another pair of strikeouts. And with two runners on in the seventh, Bergeron had no chance at Beckett's 93rd and final pitch -- a 97 mph offering, his hardest of the day.

"He's got to pick up where he left off last year and he did that today," Marlins outfielder Jeff Conine said. "He pitched a great game."

Beckett looked ordinary in spring training. He was 1-4 with a 5.34 ERA in the spring, giving up 42 hits and 10 walks in 30 1-3 innings.

He repeatedly said that he'd be in tiptop shape for the opener, and sure enough, he was right.

"You can have the worst spring in the world, it don't mean a thing," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "It's what happens when the bell rings that counts. We knew what would happen. When the bell rings, this guy's tough."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press