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A perfect inheritance: Vicente Padilla continues amazing late-innings run

05.21.12 at 11:50 pm ET
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Right-hander Vicente Padilla has stranded all 15 runners whom he's inherited this year. (AP)

“I don’t like to talk about that.”

The subject made Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine nervous, even after Vicente Padilla had enacted his strange sort of magic on the late innings once again. The right-hander came into Monday night’s game with the contest in the balance. Rich Hill gave up three straight hits to put runners on second and third with one out; a single would tie the game.

Valentine had not wanted to use Padilla on Monday for obvious reasons. It had been almost 12 years since the 34-year-old had last worked on three consecutive days. The last time he did so was as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 3-5, 2000. His 2011 season was largely ruined by health issues, to the point where the Red Sox had some reservations about using him for two straight days. Three? That seemed a bit beyond the pale.

Yet Padilla has been such a formidable late-innings weapon, particularly with runners on base, that Valentine could not resist. When Hill got in trouble and the Sox 8-6 lead was imperiled, he went once again to a familiar late-innings security blanket.

I had a little reservation. That’s why Rich Hill was out there. Rich hill was going to pitch that eighth inning. Padilla was not going to,” said Valentine. “But I thought the win was at hand. He had this little thing with inherited runners and I wanted to see if we could keep it going.”

The “little thing” was a string of 13 consecutive inherited runners stranded. It was a streak that defied logic and probability. No bloop single, no wild pitch, no sac fly — nothing had prevented Padilla from keeping an inherited runner from crossing the plate.

For his part, Padilla has come to relish the opportunity to pitch in such situations. After all, he had logged six innings with a 0.00 ERA when entering games with runners on base; in his other appearances that commenced with a clean inning, he has yielded 12 runs (11 earned) in 11 2/3 innings.

“Every time I come in with nobody on base, they score a run on me,” mused Padilla through a translator. “I like to save other guys’ runs but not mine.”

That is precisely what he did once again on Monday night. He got Wilson Betemit to fly a 2-2 fastball (a 94 mph heater with late life) to shallow left, too late for the runner on third to advance. Then, he blew a 93 mph fastball by Nick Johnson for a punchout.

And with that, Padilla kept a remarkable run intact. He has inherited 15 runners this year, and left all of them stranded.

“The game’s on the line right there. You can’t give up any runs,” said Padilla. “It seems like I’m more concentrated on making pitches more aggressively with the fastball when there are inherited runners. Maybe that’s the reason why I’ve had success with guys on base.”

Valentine had other ideas.

“He takes it so personally, that it’s somebody else’s run out there. It’s incredible. You know, he said he’s been on the other end when his runs were given up. He really does take it as a personal situation, which is wonderful,” said the Sox manager. “He’s fearless. Strike thrower. Works both sides of the plate. Can get right-handers and left-handers out.”

Those traits are making Padilla a far more valuable late-innings force than his 5.40 ERA would suggest. Time and again, he has been asked to record the pivotal outs of a game for the Sox, and he has repeatedly come through. Indeed, he now has nine holds in 10 opportunities this year, along with an eight-out save. He is growing into the sort of late-innings roles in which Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves made such a profound impact on the Sox last year, either giving the Sox length in relief or taking the game-on-the-line moment and extinguishing a threat.

While he was in the mix for a potential starting role in spring training, his impact has been comparable out of the bullpen by virtue of the high-leverage situations with which he’s being entrusted. He is proving both better able to withstand the rigors of the bullpen and more impactful than anyone could have anticipated, contributing to the remaking of the Red Sox bullpen over the last month as a team strength.

“I feel good, feel healthy,” he said. “I’m just happy I get the opportunity to go out and pitch and try to help the team win.”

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