<
>

Beckett retires first nine Expos in Marlins' opener

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."