Apparently, Josh Beckett isn't the only feeling the effects of a grueling major league season. Jonathan Papelbon is, too.
With the Red Sox holding a two-run lead entering the ninth inning, the Sox sent Papelbon out to close an eventual 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays tonight in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. Just the same, the Sox made the unusual maneuver of having another reliever, Manny Delcarmen, warming up behind Papelbon before the closer even threw a pitch, a highly unusual development for a club that has the utmost faith in its ninth-inning specialist.
A club source later confirmed that Papelbon was "pretty sore," though declined to offer specifics what was precisely ailing the pitcher. Papelbon said after the game that he was "beat up" largely as the result of having pitched two innings the Sox’ extraordinary comeback in Game 5.
"I didn’t look at the radar gun, but, [expletive], it felt like I was throwing 85 miles an hour," an exhausted Papelbon said following his performance in Game 6. "This has nothing to do with talent or anything else. These are the games where you will yourself to win and you will yourself to succeed."
In Game 5 on Thursday, Papelbon came into what was a 5-0 Tampa lead with nobody out and two men on base. He allowed a two-run double that extended the Rays advantage to 7-0 before working out of the inning, when Sox manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell informed him that his work was done for the night.
When the Red Sox subsequently rallied for four runs in the bottom of the seventh, the Sox reversed field and sent Papelbon out for the eighth. The pitcher’s velocity dipped noticeably between innings, but Papelbon nonetheless recorded a 1-2-3 inning before the Sox scored three more times in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game.
Justin Masterson then replaced Papelbon to start the ninth and pitched a scoreless inning before the Sox completed the 8-7 win in the bottom of the inning.
"That outing was a little different because they told me I was done. Then we scored a few runs and they put me back in there," Papelbon revealed of his Game 5 adventure. "So I wasn’t just physically shut down. I was mentally shut down."
Unsurprisingly, Papelbon felt sore on Friday and yesterday. He barely played catch before the game and only started to feel better during the middle innings, when the Sox were prepared to use him again (as they did in Game 5) if a key situation presented itself.
Thanks to the performance of Hideki Okajima and Masterson -- not to mention a Boston offense that staked Josh Beckett to a 4-2 lead -- Francona was able to resist using Papelbon until the ninth. As was the case in his final inning of Game 5, Papelbon lacked his usual velocity and relied more on his primary off-speed pitch, his split-fingered fastball.
As for his availability in Game 7?
"I don’t know what’s going to happen, man," he said. "We’ve got a long way to go before [Game 7]. I’ve got no idea, man. I’ve got no idea."
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