At the age of 34, with his once-roaring fastball diminished by time, Josh Beckett pitched the game of his life.
In the 321st start of a distinguished 14-year career, Beckett threw his first no-hitter Sunday in a 6-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
Instead of the overpowering fastball of his past, Beckett depended on an unpredictable assortment of breaking pitches to confound the Phillies, who drew three walks and nothing more. But with two outs in the ninth inning and the count full against Chase Utley, Beckett returned to the Old Reliable: a fastball at the knees, at clocked at 94 mph, that was taken for a called third strike.
"I don't think he's looking for a fastball down the middle there, especially when a guy's throwing a no-hitter," Beckett said. "He's probably thinking I'm going to flip him another curveball."
The no-hitter was the 24th in Dodgers history. No Dodger had thrown one since Hideo Nomo on Sept. 17, 1996, at Colorado.
Beckett's was the first regular-season no-hitter at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park. Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter here in the 2010 National League division series.
"It's special," Beckett said. "It's something you certainly think about during your career but very few people have been able to do it."
He did it not only after becoming a thinking man's pitcher, but also after returning from a career-threatening operation. To remedy a nerve-related problem, Beckett underwent a procedure last season to remove a rib.
"Just everything he's been through with us . . . it was nice," Manager Don Mattingly said. "It was fun to watch."
Fun, but also anxiety-ridden.
In the late innings, catcher Drew Butera said he could feel his heart pounding through his protective gear. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who fielded Ben Revere's grounder for the next-to-last out, said he was never more nervous playing defense.
But Beckett was relaxed.
Asked when he'd been first aware that he hadn't allowed a hit, he joked, "I knew when I went out there to warm up I hadn't given up a hit yet."
He broke baseball's taboo on talking about no-hitters in progress when, in the fourth inning, he told Mattingly, "That's three innings further than I've taken one before."
That was actually untrue. Pitching for the Boston Red Sox, Beckett took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Detroit Tigers in 2009.
He talked about the no-hitter with a police officer who was seated near him. The officer wanted Beckett's jersey if he pitched a no-hitter; Beckett later gave him a bat instead.
Beckett cruised. He walked Utley in the first inning and Marlon Byrd in the second, but otherwise prevented the Phillies from reaching base. The only serious threat to his no-hitter came in the fifth inning, when Domonic Brown lined a ball to left-center field that was caught by Carl Crawford at the warning track.
If there was a concern, it was about Beckett's pitch count. Through seven innings, he was at 100 pitches.
"I wasn't coming out of the game if I had to throw 200 pitches," Beckett said.
Mattingly was mindful of the situation.
"I can't let a guy get hurt," he said. "Luckily, I didn't have to deal with that."
Beckett threw only 10 pitches in the eighth inning.
As calm as he said he was, Beckett took a moment to collect himself before pitching the ninth.
"If I threw one, great, if not I've got healthy kids and a healthy wife," Beckett said. "That's the main goal."
Pinch-hitter Tony Gwynn Jr. led off the inning by popping up to shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena.
Revere to hit a ground ball to Gonzalez, who flipped the ball to Beckett at first base.
Jimmy Rollins walked.
Utley took a borderline 3-1 curveball that was called for a strike. The crowd moaned. The next pitch was the fastball.
"I was just, 'Oh my God, I just threw a no-hitter,'" Beckett said. "I don't know what else to say. I mean, I was excited. I was glad it was over. It was fun."
Beckett pumped his fist and was picked up by Butera. Gonzalez leaped on Beckett's back. Clayton Kershaw was the first player in the dugout to join the celebration, which soon included the entire team.
Beckett's final line: No hits, three walks, six strikeouts. He threw 128 pitches.
Phillies Manager Ryne Sandberg tipped his cap to Beckett.
"That was a veteran guy out there," Sandberg said. "We couldn't get anything going. Beckett mixed all his pitches well. He had an excellent curveball. He threw changeups in fastball counts. He threw fastballs. And there were a couple of balls hit hard. Three walks. But he had his stuff."
For Butera, it was the second no-hitter he's caught. When he was with the Minnesota Twins, he caught Francisco Liriano's in 2011.
Beckett's next start is scheduled Friday at Dodger Stadium against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Liriano will be the opposing starter.
Twitter: @dylanohernandezCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times