ATLANTA -- To look out at left field at Turner Field an hour after yesterday's 5-3 Red Sox win, long after the Tomahawk Chop cries and stadium bells and whistles had gone silent, was to look upon empty seats, plush grass, and a scoreboard that, for whatever reason, still glowed.
There was simply a name and a number, ``Papelbon, 0.26 ERA," a sight that seared into the minds of anyone still in the yard exactly why the Sox have hung with the Yankees this year and why yesterday the club pulled back into a tie with New York atop the AL East.
Consistency, composure, and excellence, thy face is Papelbon.
``Unbelievable, huh?" said Josh Beckett, who needed 105 pitches to get 18 outs but did get the win, improving to 8-3 and positioning Papelbon for save No. 22 in 23 chances. ``Just shows what kind of makeup that kid has. He's been phenomenal. He's been the glue for us down there.
``As long as things keep jelling like that, I don't see any situation where I would bring him out of that role."
The Yankees, meanwhile, piled up a seven-run lead yesterday, with Johnny Damon chipping in a grand slam (he's hitting .297 with 10 homers and is on pace for 25 HRs and 93 RBIs). But they coughed that up, with Mariano Rivera absorbing his fourth loss of the season.
That helped the Sox reclaim a share of the pole position 66 games into the season, despite the fact that the team's bullpen (Papelbon aside) is a shell of its former self and that two-fifths of the rotation is on the disabled list. Fortunately, the Sox had factors working in their favor yesterday. Beckett came in with a 1.67 lifetime ERA here at The Ted.
And the Braves had lost 15 of 18, which is now 16 of 19, a monumental slide suggesting that time's up on the Braves' dynasty.
Kevin Youkilis, the catalyst, opened the game with a homer, his third leadoff homer of the season and eighth overall. Remember all those questions about his power this spring? Well, he's on pace for 19 homers this year. Jim Thome he is not. Adequate? Absolutely.
David Ortiz made it 2-0 in the third, lining a run-scoring double to left on a 3-and-1 count against spot starter Lance Cormier, who was gone after seven hits and four runs in four innings. Ortiz was supposed to get a rest yesterday but had to play when Manny Ramírez dialed up the manager during the breakfast hour and said his knee wasn't up to playing. Ortiz, just 3 for 17 entering the game, came around to score on a Trot Nixon single to center.
``That's a big lift," Terry Francona said, of Ortiz being willing to forget his day off and then deliver.
Beckett, in the fourth inning, came to bat with one out and Alex Gonzalez (three hits) on second, having doubled. Beckett chopped a ball near home. Third baseman Wilson Betemit, playing in and anticipating a bunt, was helpless as the ball bounced over his head for an RBI single.
With that Beckett knocked in his third run this year. All other American League pitchers went into yesterday with four RBIs combined in interleague play.
``Today was complete luck," Beckett said. ``They were playing me in thinking I was going to bunt. I guess the ground out there in front of the plate is pretty hard because I didn't exactly crush the ball and it bounced pretty hard. It was location."
Ortiz, in the fifth, found himself leading off the inning and staring out at a familiar face: Mike Remlinger. Remlinger, now 40, lasted just eight games with the Sox last year, allowing 11 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings. His career, last summer, looked over.
But, he's back in Atlanta, where he's spent more time than anywhere else, and has a 3.74 ERA in a team-leading 34 appearances. Against Ortiz he went to 3 and 2, and with the bases empty left a fastball over the plate at 88 miles per hour. Ortiz hammered it into the Atlanta bullpen for his 19th homer of the year and a 5-1 lead.
Beckett would make it through six with just two Atlanta runs across, though he faced clear and present danger in the fifth, when, with one out the bottom two spots in the order accounted for singles. Beckett followed that with two four-pitch walks, to Marcus Giles and Edgar Renteria. Renteria's walk forced in a run.
``I got too quick, it was mechanical," Beckett said of that funk. ``I couldn't get the ball down. Everything was up, up, up. Generally, when that happens it's my bottom half going too quick."
Beckett recalibrated himself and got Betemit, who spelled Chipper Jones (sore right thumb), to pop to Gonzalez for a huge out. That brought up Andruw Jones, probably the NL's most fearsome hitter last year.
``I've faced him enough, and I don't think he's done extremely well," Beckett said accurately, for Jones, yesterday included, is 8 for 29 (.276) with no homers off Beckett. ``I went back and thought of some of the at-bats I watched [Friday]. I was basically going to make him hit my best pitch and that was my fastball."
Beckett started Jones off with a fastball high at 97 m.p.h. for a ball. He snapped off a curveball for a called strike. He then threw a fastball at 96 down the pipe that Jones took a gigantic but empty cut at. With Jones behind, 1 and 2, Beckett went up top, getting Jones to pop out on a fastball clocked at 98 m.p.h.
``That pitch was supposed to be up and in," he said. ``It was up and over the plate, a pitch he definitely can handle. Got lucky and he popped out."
Lucky, and good.
``One thing he really did was compete," Francona said. ``He was somewhat effectively wild."