Pen authored another happy ending
Jonathan Papelbon gets a charge out of retiring Jason Giambi for the final out. (Reuters Photo)
NEW YORK -- The fastballs, like the drops that had started to pour onto Yankee Stadium, kept raining from the right hand of Jonathan Papelbon and toward Miguel Cairo at the plate.
There were two outs in the eighth inning last night and the Red Sox held a 4-3 lead, but Bernie Williams, who led off the inning with a double off Keith Foulke, was now dancing off third base, itching to tie the score.
And that's why Papelbon, who had come in to face the righthanded-hitting Cairo, was sticking to his smoke. He didn't want a splitter to squirt away from Jason Varitek and allow Williams to score. Cairo, looking fastball all the way, fouled off three two-strike pitches to stay alive. But on the eighth pitch of the showdown, Papelbon pulled out the wild card: the splitter. Like it often does, the pitch took a late tumble off the plate, forcing Cairo to flail and miss. The ball almost got away from Varitek, but he snared it and threw to first, ending the inning.
It was the closest the Yankees would come to tying the score.
''It was fun for me tonight," said Papelbon, who is now 13 for 13 in save opportunities. ''As a kid, these are the things you dream about -- Yankee Stadium, hostile environment."
Papelbon, however, wasn't the only righthander to trot out of the bullpen and close out the game for the Sox. In the seventh, after Tim Wakefield had thrown back-to-back perfect innings and completed his 106-pitch performance, Mike Timlin got Johnny Damon to ground out before Derek Jeter took an outside slider and placed it into center field.
The next two hitters, Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez, had both turned Curt Schilling mistakes into homers the night before. Timlin didn't want the same thing to happen again (''Tough outs," the righty casually called the pair of sluggers). He started Giambi off with two strikes, but New York's No. 3 hitter extended the count to 3 and 2. On the seventh pitch, Timlin heaved a fastball on the outer part of the plate just a hair out of Giambi's power zone, and the DH went down with his third strikeout of the night.
Timlin, who went to 1 and 2 on Rodriguez, threw a pitch down and in he thought sliced through the strike zone. Umpire Greg Gibson didn't think so, calling the pitch a ball.
''I did," Timlin said when asked if he should have gotten the call. ''But the umpire didn't think so. It was a good pitch, but I smiled about it. Jason smiled about it."
Later in the battle, the Sox weren't smiling. Timlin threw a sinker that Rodriguez turned on, rapping a screaming liner that hooked wide of the left-field foul pole. Timlin shrugged off the loud foul and attacked Rodriguez again, and the cleanup hitter, who had fouled off three two-strike pitches, went down swinging. Timlin pumped his fist, and as he entered the dugout, he got attaboys from fellow strong-armers Schilling and Josh Beckett.
''You can't say enough about Mike," said Foulke. ''He's been doing that for a long time, going in there and getting through the middle part of the order. That's why he's one of the best guys in baseball at this job."
The Sox and their rivals are starting to say the same thing about Papelbon. Papelbon, aided by an eighth-inning insurance run scored by Willie Harris, needed only four pitches to retire Bubba Crosby and Damon to start the ninth, although Jeter worked the closer to a full count and drew a walk. Jeter, however, barely had time to take his lead off first when Papelbon fired an inside fastball to Giambi, who popped to third baseman Mike Lowell for the final out.
''I knew I had to stay focused," said Papelbon. ''I didn't want to get ahead of myself.
''I executed my pitch and stayed within myself."
There are many iconic bridges in the radius of Yankee Stadium. For the Red Sox, the most important span was the one connecting the seventh inning to the ninth. Last night, that three-man bridge didn't buckle.