Loss Will Fuel Papelbon
|10.11.09 at 6:51 pm ET|
Jonathan Papelbon took his time after suffering the Game 3 loss, and understandably so. Following a run of near-perfection that spanned his first four major league seasons, beginning with his dominance in the 2005 playoffs (when the Red Sox were eliminated by the White Sox) and continuing through a World Series in 2007 and a seven-game ALCS in 2008, he had been as dominant as nearly any pitcher in postseason history.
Papelbon carried a 0.00 ERA into Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Angels, the longest run without permitting an earned run to start a postseason career by any pitcher in big-league history. And so, after being entrusted with a 5-2 lead in the top of the eighth inning, Papelbon himself never would have expected an outcome like the one that unfolded.
“It hurts just as much as any other postseason loss. You can’t sit there and classify how much this one hurts than any other. … In postseason play, my job is to, when I get called upon is to get all the outs I’m called on to get,” said Papelbon. (More audio below) “I think things happened quick, more than anything. I wasn’t able to stop the bleeding. Your team fights and puts you in that situation, to call upon you, and you let them down. Your team expects you to pull through and preserve that win for you and then you don’t, it’s definitely not a good feeling.”
The Sox closer entered with two on and two out in the top of the eighth. He left a first-pitch fastball in the middle of the zone to Juan Rivera, resulting in a two-run single that narrowed Boston’s advantage to 5-4. Even so, after the Sox added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning, Papelbon seemed set to close the door for his eighth career postseason save.
Instead, after blazing through a pair of outs to open the inning, the Angels began battling, whittling at the closer’s invincibility. Erick Aybar singled on an 0-2 fastball, then advanced to second on defensive indifference. Chone Figgins jumped ahead, 3-0, before drawing a full-count walk. Bobby Abreu then fell behind 1-2, fouled off a pitch, then lined a double to left-center to score Aybar and put runners on second and third.
The Sox elected to intentionally walk Torii Hunter (3-for-8 with a homer in his career against Papelbon) to load the bases for Vladimir Guerrero (2-for-12 against the Sox closer. Guerrero swung at Papelbon’s first-pitch fastball. (Notably, Papelbon threw nothing but fastballs in the ninth: all 26 of his pitches (not counting his intentional walk) were heaters.) Though the pitch stayed off the barrel of the bat, Guerrero muscled it into shallow center for a two-run single that ultimately propelled the Angels to victory.
“I felt good. I did,” said Papelbon. “I wasn’t able to really locate when I needed to and it proved to be costly.”
Papelbon said that he would leave behind the sting of defeat as soon as he left the clubhouse. He set to the task of packing his belongings for the winter after the game. Even so, the Sox closer admitted that he might make a point of replaying this game to drive himself in his preparations for the 2010 season.
“I don’t take anything home with me or take anything into the offseason with me,” Papelbon said initially. “Although when you do go into the offseason after the season is over and it ends like it did today, definitely, definitely you remember those situations when you’re in the weight room in the offseason and when you’re getting ready to prepare. Who knows? I may be replaying this on the TV in my weight room in the offseason and give me a little motivation for next season.”
There was such an air of certainty about having Papelbon on the mound that his teammates were stunned by the way the lead escaped him.
“It was 0-2, two outs, just waiting and planning on playing tomorrow. Then all of a sudden, one thing led to another and you look back and it was like, ‘Whoa – what just happened?’” said outfielder Jason Bay. “He’s been our guy the entire year. Nobody goes through an entire year being perfect. It just happened it was Game 3, an elimination game in the postseason. But absolutely, we’ll take him any day of the week. … I feel bad for Pap, but at the same time, I don’t think anyone here looks at him and thinks it’s his fault. I think Pap’s strong enough to let this one go.”
Papelbon’s pitch count reached 32 when he left the mound, and so manager Terry Francona made the decision to lift him and bring in reliever Hideki Okajima. As Papelbon exited, a first-of-its-kind sound greeted him, as some in Fenway Park booed their closer. Papelbon was not asked if he heard those boos, or if he did, whether that will be part of his motivational postseason reel. Some of his teammates, however, did take umbrage at the treatment of the closer.
“I think [the booing] surprised everybody,” said Lester. “I don’t think he deserves for [the fans] to do that. Obviously, it wasn’t everybody. You could tell that. But the few people that did [boo him], I personally think it was uncalled for. But that’s the way it goes sometimes. Hopefully we can come back next year and do better.”
If that is to happen, Papelbon would likely have to play a major role in the development. It would be no surprise if he proved capable of doing so, after a season in which – despite some struggles, he went 1-1 with a 1.85 ERA and went 38-for-41 in regular-season save opportunities. All the same, after allowing his first October runs, his aura of playoff invincibility has been changed. The 0.00 that greeted his entrance, and that Papelbon admitted prior to the series was “extremely dear” to him, is gone, and with it, so is the 2009 season of the Red Sox.
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