Papelbon made the wait worthwhile for the Red Sox as the closer shrugged off an extended rain delay to retire all four batters he faced to preserve the Sox' 4-3 win over the Yankees in front of another sellout crowd of 37,461 at Fenway Park.
With runners on first and second, Papelbon struck out Alex Rodriguez on three pitches to end the eighth. He then struck out Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada leading off the ninth before he retired Robinson Cano on a grounder to first to end the game. The whiff of Rodriguez provided a measure of revenge of sorts for Papelbon, who gave up a homer and an RBI single to Rodriguez in his last two appearances at Fenway Park last year (June 3 and September 14).
Papelbon warmed up four times before he finally got to face Rodriguez—twice in the bullpen and twice on the mound. His ability to dominate despite the delay and distractions impressed teammates who were long ago enamored with their flame-throwing closer.
"It was pretty amazing," Jason Varitek told reporters. "He got hot for the third time. And to go out there with that kind of stuff still—he accepted a lot for this team, and for him to be able to do that shows a lot to his teammates. It was a well-needed win for us."
Said Terry Francona: "His stuff was phenomenal. I'm not sure what's better, his arm or his heart. It was pretty impressive."
The delay brought a grinding halt to a game that originally featured a taut and fast-paced pitcher's duel between Josh Beckett and Mike Mussina. Beckett, who didn't pitch in an official exhibition game due to a back injury and struggled in his first start of the regular season Sunday, was brilliant through five innings, during which he allowed only a borderline infield single to Cano.
The Yankees finally began to chip away in the sixth, when Beckett gave up leadoff singles to Jose Molina and Alberto Gonzalez. Molina scored on a sacrifice fly and Gonzalez raced home on a wild pitch to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.
But the Sox took the lead for good in the bottom of the inning when Manny Ramirez—who snapped a scoreless tie in the fourth with a solo homer—laced a two-run double to chase Mussina. Kevin Youkilis followed with an RBI single against Brian Bruney.
The Yankees closed within 4-3 in the seventh on Cano's RBI double, but Manny Delcarmen relieved Beckett and struck out Molina to get out of the jam. "I felt good early," Beckett told reporters. "[He] got some pitches up later in the game."
Hideki Okajima allowed a single and a walk with two outs before Papelbon—and the rains—arrived. "I said to myself: ‘This is the ballgame right here,'" Papelbon told reporters. "I feel like our team went out there and everybody from top to bottom worked their butts off to put us in a situation to win. And I definitely was not going to let that go."
Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at email@example.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752.
Papelbon The Rain Man As Sox Edge Yanks
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