He didn't need Jonathan Papelbon for more than two outs. So, as Red Sox manager Terry Francona had promised, he didn't use him for more than that.
Just six pitches were needed, but they weren't the final outs of the game. They weren't even in the ninth inning. They were two outs, two batters, in the eighth that could have made the difference between winning and losing.
As Francona had insisted he would do back in Texas last week, he brought in his closer in the eighth inning, used him as needed -- Vladimir Guerrero strikeout, Garret Anderson line out to left -- and then let him sit back and watch his setup man, Mike Timlin, finish a game that was no longer a save situation. Because at that point, after a six-run eighth, the Red Sox led by nine runs, going on to beat the Angels, 10-1, in a Fenway Park filled with 35,946 frigid souls.
"We're still learning," Francona said of how to work a bullpen rotation that keeps Papelbon's shoulder healthy. "There's a lot of anxiety on my part. John [Farrell, the pitching coach] and I go back and forth on every possible scenario. Like I said, it's not going to be perfect. It can't be. Things unravel sometimes quicker than you want.
"But we think it through and we try to have a game plan. And the biggest thing of all is we don't want to leave one of the premier weapons not in the game when the game is in the balance."
It was, in many ways, just like Texas.
With one out in the eighth inning, and the Sox ahead, 4-1, Papelbon entered with men on first and third and the Angels' Nos. 3 and 4 hitters lining up to face him. (Sound familiar?)
Reminiscent of his four-pitch strikeout of the Rangers' Michael Young with one out in the eighth inning Sunday, Papelbon struck out Guerrero on his fourth pitch, a 97-mile-per-hour fastball that left the Angels' best hitter swinging at air. And it took just two pitches to retire Anderson on a hard drive to Manny Ramírez.
To Papelbon's teammates, it wasn't surprising. "He don't impress me no more," deadpanned David Ortiz, before breaking out in a smile. "This guy is something else. He must be from another planet. I mean, that's him, man. He would impress me if I don't see that. But that's him."
When the score reached 6-1 in the ninth, Francona told Papelbon to put down his glove. His night was over, giving Timlin a chance for a 1-2-3 ninth inning (highlighted by an impressive catch by second baseman Dustin Pedroia in short right field for the final out).
With Tim Wakefield mastering both the knuckleball and, by extension, the Angels, and his offense giving him a rare boost in the form of four runs while he was in the game, it wasn't quite as close as Sunday, when Papelbon inherited a one-run lead to protect for Curt Schilling. But it was close.
Supported with a home run by personal catcher Doug Mirabelli, who later added a second RBI to make it 3-1, Wakefield deployed a diving, darting knuckleball that was moving so much that at one point, Guerrero looked foolish enough on a swing to draw a delighted gasp from the crowd. And he wasn't the only one.
"Very sharp," Francona said, "under conditions that probably aren't real conducive for him being sharp."
Throwing just 82 pitches over seven-plus innings on a night when the game-time temperature was 47 degrees, Wakefield allowed one run, scored by former teammate Orlando Cabrera after a walk, stolen base, and solid single by Guerrero that ended with the right fielder caught in a rundown between first and second. Wakefield exited one batter into the eighth after third baseman Mike Lowell made a diving stop of a Maicer Izturis grounder but threw the ball away.
But this excellent offensive night for the Sox -- with multiple-hit games from Julio Lugo, Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew, Ortiz, Lowell, and Mirabelli -- didn't come down to the offense. Even with six eighth-inning runs, including two RBIs each by Ortiz, Drew, and Lowell, it came down to the bullpen, to Papelbon.
"I don't want to say it's been an easy path for me here lately, but I've been able to get the proper amount of rest," Papelbon said. "I've been able to get my innings in. I know it's going to be a tough road ahead. It's not going to be this easy."