Thursday, July 24, 2008
Sweeping in Seattle
Customarily, Jonathan Papelbon doesn't wear the titanium necklaces favored by some of his teammates, but he had so many wrapped around his neck before yesterday's game, he looked like he was taking jewelry lessons from David Ortiz.
Just joking around, he said, trying to get an endorsement deal. Papelbon doesn't believe the necklaces can change energy flow, the reason most often given for wearing them, or that they ward off evil spirits, as Daisuke Matsuzaka has said on more than one occasion.
"That's getting into a whole new realm of things that I don't want to be a part of," said Papelbon, the beneficiary of uncommon good fortune in yesterday's 6-3, 12-inning win over the Mariners when he escaped a first-and-third, one-out situation in the 11th that started with a slow roller that acted possessed when Papelbon attempted to field it.
"That ball was spinning like [heck]," Papelbon said of Jose Vidro's tapper down the first base line that dropped Papelbon to his knees after he was unable to pick it up twice. "The same exact thing happened the last time we were here."
The play, as bizarre in its own way as Manny Ramírez winding up sitting on a ball in left field in Anaheim a few nights ago, left Papelbon with about as much chance of claiming a Gold Glove one day as Ramírez.
"You know, he and [Josh] Beckett think that they should get a Gold Glove, but they stink," said Mike Lowell, who ultimately won this 4-hour-1-minute exercise with a two-run single after Willie Bloomquist, who started the game at shortstop, dropped a one-out liner to center by Kevin Youkilis in the 12th. "Paps whiffed at that ball twice. First, it would have gone foul. Then I don't know if he kicked it, spit on it, kneed it, or whatever. That one, I want to see a replay. I don't think he'll ever talk about a Gold Glove again."
It was hardly a laughing matter when, after striking out Adrian Beltre, Papelbon gave up a line single to Yuniesky Betancourt with Vidro on the move, leaving the Mariners with runners on the corners and one out and prompting a rare visit to the mound by manager Terry Francona to discuss strategy.
The next batter, Kenji Johjima, hit a one-hop smash to Lowell, who started an around-the-horn double play, much to the delight of a fist-pumping Papelbon.
"Perfect," Lowell said. "Johjima and Betancourt always seem to do well against us, no matter whether they've been struggling. We could not have scripted it better."
So, with a little serendipity in Seattle, and a terrific job by a bullpen that turned in 6 2/3 innings of four-hit, scoreless relief, the Sox return home after a three-game sweep of the Mariners canceled out the three games they lost over the weekend to the Angels in Anaheim. They left home after the All-Star break a half-game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East; they come back trailing the Rays by a half-game, with the Yankees just three games in arrears and coming to Fenway for a three-game set this weekend.
The Sox will not only mark the return of David Ortiz after a nearly two-month absence, but they may also have discovered a new weapon in the bullpen. Rookie Justin Masterson, in his first big-league relief appearance, relieved Clay Buchholz with two on in the sixth after Vidro's two-run home run had tied the score. Masterson struck out Johjima and rookie Bryan LaHair, then tacked on two more scoreless innings.
"I was really excited," Papelbon said. "Especially in that situation. It was a tough situation, especially for his first time coming out of the bullpen, and he passed with flying colors, obviously."
Francona - who also got a big out in the ninth from Manny Delcarmen, who retired Bloomquist on a ground ball after Hideki Okajima walked pinch hitter Miguel Cairo with two out - was just as impressed.
"That's the guy we were hoping to see," he said. "That was electric. [Masterson] had poise. You don't jump up and down during a game for the future, but that was nice to see."
The Sox scored twice in the third, even though Ichiro Suzuki took a three-run home run away from J.D. Drew with a leaping catch at the wall. Youkilis singled home one run and Ichiro, who had an adventurous day - he also was picked off first but later doubled Drew off first after catching Youkilis's slicing liner on the foul line - booted the ball for an error that allowed Dustin Pedroia to score as well.
Raul Ibanez led off the fourth with a home run off Buchholz to make it 2-1, but a bases-loaded walk to Coco Crisp by Felix Hernandez gave the Sox a 3-1 lead in the sixth before Jose Lopez singled and scored ahead of Vidro's home run.
"It was a positive outing for me," Buchholz said. "Even though I gave up the home runs on two bad pitches, I was able to stay down most of the game."
The Mariners never led in the first two games of this series, and with the Sox pen at peak efficiency, they did not lead yesterday, either.
"I hope to get in there once in a while," Masterson said after he went eight up, eight down through the Seattle order, with three whiffs.
The Sox took the lead on a rally that began with a single by Jacoby Ellsbury, who had not gotten the ball out of the infield in five previous at-bats. After Pedroia grounded out, Drew was walked intentionally, and when Bloomquist dropped Youkilis's liner, the bases were loaded. Lowell singled home two, Sean Casey the other.
There was one more escape act, this one in the 12th by Craig Hansen, who like Papelbon had trouble fielding a comebacker. "I was just happy that I didn't fall down like Paps," he said.
Hansen was happier still when, after loading the bases on a two-out single by Lopez and a walk to Ibanez, he retired Vidro on a ground ball to Pedroia.
The win went to Papelbon, who will have a day off to rest after pitching in all three games here. The save went to Hansen, the second of his career.
"You get Paps in a [tie] game like that, then keep playing, what you're hoping for is what happened," said Francona, who did not have Manny Ramírez (sore knee) available, "that you score a few runs.
"We had stick-to-it-iveness and kept playing."