|Julio Lugo takes out the Twins' Matt Tolbert on a fielder's choice in the sixth. (Paul Battaglia/Associated Press)|
MINNEAPOLIS - The last blown save came out of nowhere, the hits (plus the error) adding up to a nightmare scenario for the man on the mound. That one wasn't Jonathan Papelbon's fault, though the watercoolers in the dugout would hardly have taken comfort in that.
This one? It was a textbook example of small ball, the Twins plating a pair of runs on a single by Mike Lamb in the ninth inning last night against one of the premier closers in the game to defeat the Red Sox, 7-6, in the Metrodome.
"It's frustrating as hell right now, just because the simple fact is I'm throwing good pitches, I'm just not finishing them right now and executing them all the way through the strike zone," Papelbon said. "I'm sitting there in a comfortable position, where I want to be, with one out to get, and I don't finish a split-finger and he bloops it over the third baseman. Simple."
Delmon Young had advanced to third base against Papelbon with two down, his single up the middle to lead off the inning bringing back memories of Wednesday night's blown save against the Tigers. That was followed by a full count to Carlos Gomez, and the crowd of 25,477 rising to its feet.
Gomez walked, just Papelbon's second free pass of the season, then stole second, putting Lamb at the plate. Lamb then blooped a single into left field, giving the Twins the win.
"We can't defense that," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "Got a professional hitter that put enough of the bat on the ball and hit it where nobody was."
It was hard for the Sox to take, especially after rallying from an early hole that came courtesy of Jon Lester and Julio Lugo. Despite their performances, it was still looking good for the Sox in the ninth.
"You know what, he had, what, 56 pitches after two," Francona said of his starter. "And then he hung around and gave us a chance."
In the stadium that could have been his home park - if the Johan Santana talks with the Sox had led to a deal last winter - Lester was battered and bruised, with everything from comebackers to flying bats to the five runs scored off him. But even after allowing two runs in both the first and second innings - the latter two unearned because of Lugo's 11th error of the season - plus another in the fourth, Lester made it through 5 1/3 and left in line for the win.
"I had some foul balls and some broken-bat hits and balls that found holes," Lester said. "Not a lot I can do about that. I've got to execute pitches and just try to minimize damage the best I can and keep the team in the game."
That much he did. Boston scored four runs in the fifth inning, knocking Twins starter Boof Bonser out with a two-run double by Mike Lowell. Then Juan Rincon was greeted by a run-scoring ground out by Kevin Youkilis. Lowell scored the Sox' final run on Rincon's wild pitch.
The Red Sox stranded two runners each in the sixth, eighth, and ninth innings, maintaining the lead but missing the chance to extend it.
Getting stellar relief from Hideki Okajima - the lefthander needing just 15 pitches in two innings - helped. So, too, did the throw from center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to second baseman Dustin Pedroia to catcher Jason Varitek that cut down Young at home in the sixth.
So that was it, the second loss in the fifth game of the Sox' road trip, but also the second loss for Papelbon on the trip. He'll now go back to work, to figure out how to finish his pitches, to get them through the strike zone the way he wants.
But Papelbon knows he didn't attack batters last night the way he should. And he paid.
"It's a pretty simple game," he said. "I've got one out to get. I've got to execute a pitch with two strikes and get the job done. It's that simple. I didn't do that."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.