Tidy work by bullpen kept things in order

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / April 9, 2011

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Everything set up perfectly for them.

One by one, Alfredo Aceves, Bobby Jenks, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon were summoned from the Red Sox bullpen yesterday.

Individually, they were called upon to pitch one inning of relief. Collectively, they shut out the Yankees, making possible a 9-6 victory in the home opener.

“We’ve kind of been itching to do that,’’ said Bard, who pitched a perfect eighth. “We haven’t had a lead to protect until today.

“I think all of us, all late-game relievers pitch better with the lead. That’s how it is. Some people who haven’t done it don’t understand it, but you pitch better when you’re protecting that lead.’’

After starter John Lackey allowed six runs as he battled through five innings, Boston’s bullpen went to work, allowing one hit and two walks, while striking out five.

“Our bullpen came in and put up zeros,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “That’s tough to do.’’

Especially against a lineup as formidable as the Yankees’, and in a situation in which the bullpen was charged with protecting a tenuous 7-6 lead.

Aceves, who was scratched from his season-opening start in Pawtucket Thursday so he could be recalled yesterday, was the first one called by Francona. He greeted Curtis Granderson with a strikeout on a 91-mile-per-hour fastball, then gave up a seeing-eye base hit by Russell Martin and walked Brett Gardner before inducing Derek Jeter to hit into a 6-4-3 double play.

“He just got here today and he went out there and pitched a big inning in the sixth,’’ Jenks said. “He got a huge double play off Jeter and it might’ve sparked the hitters a little more to get a rally going.’’

It certainly seemed to have that effect on Aceves, who compiled a 14-1 record and 3.21 ERA in three seasons with the Yankees, but was out of a job in December. When he came off the mound, he was clearly animated to have held the line against his former team.

“It was a double play, man,’’ said Aceves. “If they scored one run they would’ve tied it, but they didn’t tie it. We held them right there. It helped us to win.

“That was the most important thing. We got the first win. Now we flip the tortilla.’’

Although Bard and Papelbon were familiar with the intensity of the rivalry — as was Aceves from the other side — it was all new to Jenks, who left the White Sox to sign a two-year, $12 million deal in January.

“As far as this rivalry goes, if it’s important to the city, it’s important to us,’’ he said. “Even though I’m the new guy coming in, I don’t really know the rivalry, but I know of the rivalry and you got to appreciate that as a new player and respect that.’’

Jenks did his part, despite issuing a leadoff walk to Mark Teixeira. Jenks atoned, though, when he struck out Alex Rodriguez swinging on a 94-mile-per-hour fastball.

He got some support from his defense on a force of Teixeira at second and Carl Crawford’s catch of Nick Swisher’s foul pop down the line in left.

“It was a very hard catch to stay mentally focused on it, because everyone was reaching for it when it started out going into the stands and came back,’’ Jenks said. “Just to stay on it, for that long, was impressive. It would’ve landed foul, but for him to stay in there was just awesome.’’

The same could have been said of the shutdown 1-2-3 innings Bard had in the eighth and Papelbon had in the ninth to close it.

“I think people in our role really enjoy it,’’ Bard said, referring to the intense Sox-Yankees rivalry. “It’s a good adrenaline rush. I enjoy it.’’

As does Papelbon. He thrives in such end-of-game, pressure situations.

It helped, of course, that his fastball had a lot of life to it, which he used to get the first two batters, Gardner and Jeter, swinging at 94-mile-per-hour fastballs.

“That’s when I tend to be at my best, rather than those situations where it’s not on the line, or I’m just trying to go get some work,’’ Papelbon said.

“I think I’m at my best when everything’s on the line. It’s just the way I am.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at

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