|For the first time: Bobby Jenks-to-Daniel Bard-to-Jonathan Papelbon equals win||04.08.11 at 10:44 pm ET|
Friday was exactly what Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and skipper Terry Francona had in mind when they rebuilt the bullpen.
The idea was to have Bobby Jenks pitch the seventh, Daniel Bard the eighth and Jonathan Papelbon closing out games just like he has since 2007. And on Friday, that’s exactly what happened in a 9-6 win over the Yankees in the 2011 home opener at Fenway. Three of the hardest-throwing relievers in baseball. And all of them delivered.
Consider it a whole new take on “closer by committee.”
“I think that’s what they planned to do,” said Papelbon, who was perfect in recording his first save of the season and closing out Boston’s first win. “That’s the reason they brought Jenks here. I think as a bullpen unit down there, we feel like if you can get the ball to us in the late innings of a game with the lead, we should be able to hold it.”
The key to getting there was Alfredo Aceves, recalled earlier in the day before the home opener to take the place of the disabled Matt Albers. Aceves came in and did what starter John Lackey could not, put up a zero on the board against the Yankees.
“We put up four zeroes,” Francona said. “Aceves has been through this before. Bobby has pitched a closer with the White Sox. Regardless of who we’re [pitching], it doesn’t matter, we have to find ways to win.”
Aceves was the only reliever to allow more than one base-runner, and had to face Derek Jeter with runners on first and second and one out in the sixth, with the Sox clinging to a 7-6 lead. He got an inning-ending double play and the Red Sox had their set-up men set up.
A pumped up Jenks walked Mark Teixeira on four pitches and went 2-0 on Alex Rodriguez before coming all the way back to strike him out on a 94 MPH fastball up and away. Robinson Cano grounded into a fielder’s choice and Nick Swisher flew out and it was on to the eighth.
“It’s psychological,” Bard said. “Teams start pressing in the sixth, seventh inning. If you can get the hitters to start feeling like they’re pressing, you got maybe an advantage you’re going to get swings out of the zone. If we can start to have that effect, it’s going to help the team as a whole.”
Even after Bard threw just 15 pitches Thursday, Francona and pitching coach Curt Young didn’t immediately assume he would be available Friday after taking the toughest of tough-luck losses, 1-0, in Cleveland Thursday afternoon.
“I told them I was good to go,” Bard said. “I didn’t know if they were going to sit me down after yesterday. It felt good to be back in there again.”
Bard, who lowered his ERA to 12.27, pitched a perfect eighth, including a strikeout of Curtis Granderson. After Bard took a seat after his perfect inning, he admired what Papelbon did, making use of a new weapon in his arsenal – the slider.
“Same thing I was looking for,” Bard said. “He’s got downhill plane on the ball, an improved slider. He’s my catch partner. We play catch everyday. I see the development of his pitches every day.”
Papelbon struck out Brett Gardner and Jeter before getting Teixeira to pop out to center to end the game.
The Red Sox group of Jenks, Bard and Papelbon combined for three scoreless innings on no hits, one walk and four strikeouts.
Just what Epstein and Francona had in mind all along.
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