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Notes on a comeback

Posted by Adam Kilgore, Globe Staff  July 1, 2009 07:15 PM

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You could point about 87 different little reasons why the Red Sox came back against the Orioles and won, 6-5 this afternoon at Camden Yards. Josh Beckett throwing three scoreless inning, getting through the seventh when it seemed he left his best stuff at home. Julio Lugo, the forgotten shortstop, knocking home the game-winner. Jeff Bailey drawing a two-out walk in the ninth, then moving Jacoby Ellsbury to third in the 11th with a two-strike sacrifice fly.

The list doesn't have to end. But in the aftermath of a victory that allowed the Red Sox a happy flight home and helped erase the sting from Tuesday's embarrassment, here are just three items that stand out.

Jonathan Papelbon wanted revenge: On Tuesday night, when he blew a save for the second time season, the first three batters Papelbon faced were Felix Pie, Nick Markakis, and Aubrey.

While he warmed up in bullpen today before the bottom of the 11th, Papelbon checked who was up next for Baltimore: Pie, Markakis, and Huff. He was glad.

“No question,” Papelbon said. “I definitely wanted that part of the lineup. For sure.”

Papelbon delivered. Papelbon, in his words, “pitched backwards.” He started the hitters, Markakis especially, with splitters, and then moved to his fastball, which is rare for him. It worked. He retired the side in order, and in doing moved past Bob Stanley into first place all-time on the Red Sox saves list with 133.

“It feels good,” Papelbon said. “When I set out to do this, to be the closer of the Boston Red Sox, there were a lot of goals in sight. And this was one of them. To finally get there and kind of get it out of my head is good for me. All right, that’s done. Let’s move on.”

Papelbon threw a pair of balls into his suit case – his carry-on suitcase, because he wanted to make sure milestone markers arrived safe back in Boston.

Rocco Baldelli likes his role: Before the end of last season, when Baldelli was healthy enough to play, he played just about every day. With the Red Sox, he is a bench player.

Before this year, Baldelli had pinch hit 15 times in his career, and he had two singles and a home run. Baldelli has already pinch hit seven times this season, and he is 3 for 6 with a walk.

His biggest appearance came yesterday, and the result showed how comfortable he is becoming as pinch hitter. With the bases loaded in the ninth, with two outs and the Sox down by two, Baldelli fisted off a one-hopper through the middle, just past a diving Robert Andio. The hit plated two runs and tied the game, helping lift the Sox to the victory.

“If I’m not going to start, I’d like to be in some situations where something could happen,” Baldelli said. “There’s nothing better than being inserted into the game with the bases loaded. You couldn’t ask for much more than that. I’m liking it. I’m started to really get into a roll. It’s good.”

How has Baldelli, in half a season, gone from a player unaccustomed to pinch hitting and not really all that good at it to someone who thrives at the position?

“Just kind of doing it,” Baldelli said. “I guess there’s no other way to get used to it. Just the experience of going through it. It’s not a bad gig. It’s pretty good.”


Daniel Bard was nasty: The Red Sox’ bullpen was stripped and sold for parts Tuesday night, and yesterday presented an opportunity to atone. “I thought today was a great opportunity for our bullpen to show the league and the rest of the guys on this team what we’re really made of,” Papelbon said.

They did, and Bard set the tone. He relieved Josh Beckett in the eighth and dominated all six batters he faced, striking the first three and four in total. He touched 98 on the radar gun, but his slider may have been most impressive.

Yes, he blew away Markakis – a hitter who can crush any fastball – swinging at a 97-mph heater, but his slider had enough bite that it broke all the way across the plate, diving at hitters ankle. Bard is at best when he is easy in his delivery, trusting himself and knowing his stuff is good enough. He threw that way today, and it showed in his slider.

“I was able to bury a couple when I was ahead,” Bard said. “That’s when I know it’s good, when I can get it down and bury when I need to it.”

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