10/09/2003 2:04 AM ET
'Pen offering much-needed relief
Relievers logging 0.93 ERA in 2003 postseason
NEW YORK -- Time to change the adjective describing the Boston Red Sox bullpen, since it isn't leaving much to malign.
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
It also might be time to bestow an adjective on one relief pitcher -- a description Boston hasn't been willing to give or hasn't found anyone worthy to receive it, depending on what happened during a particular game.
How does closer Scott Williamson sound?
For what it's worth, Williamson would say no thanks to that. Still, on Wednesday night, Williamson threw a perfect ninth inning to complete a three-inning, shutout relief effort and ice Boston's 5-2 victory over the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
"I don't have a label," said Williamson, who fanned Jason Giambi with a fastball to open the inning and Jorge Posada to close it and send a Yankee Stadium crowd quietly to the exits. "We're all closers. When the phone rings, whoever's name is called, you get up and get prepared to pitch. That's what you do. There's not a closer on this team. We all are."
It was the first save in a Red Sox uniform for Williamson, who arrived in a deadline trade with Cincinnati and endured some rocky outings on the field and, more importantly, dealt with his wife's difficult pregnancy (she and their new son are in Boston, doing fine).
Williamson has finished four postseason games, and had the opportunity in the deciding Game 5 at Oakland, but was a little wild. He got help from starter Derek Lowe, who reprised his old closer role to get the Sox into a matchup with the archrival Yankees.
So, is Williamson sure he doesn't want an adjective to go with that save?
"I just don't think about it, to be honest with you," he said.
That fits with a relief staff that would rather do it than describe it.
Manager Grady Little didn't use the c-word, which has been a curse word in New England all year. Rather than labeling Williamson and his relievers with roles, he simply appreciated what they did. The performance dropped Boston's postseason ERA to 0.93 in 19 1/3 innings.
Sox fans now have no reason to curse. Byung-Hyun Kim, hit hard in the Oakland series, bothered by a sore shoulder and scorned in Boston because of his fickle finger, was left off the Red Sox's ALCS roster.
"The bullpen has been great -- tonight was no different," Little said. "The job that Williamson did in the ninth inning was outstanding."
Starting knuckleballer Tim Wakefield -- a threat to show up in the bullpen at any time, by the way -- pitched six solid innings and left two men on base, courtesy of his only walks of the game as he opened the seventh. He left without retiring a batter in the inning.
Both runners scored under left-hander Alan Embree's watch, but he gave up just one hit and quelled the Yankees before the crowd could celebrate the arrival of relievers that it loves to malign.
Embree, who is often called upon with runners on base and says, "I usually like it messy," has not been charged with an earned run in four appearances covering three innings.
Right-hander Mike Timlin, whose solid regular season (6-4, 3.55 ERA, 65 strikeouts to nine walks) often was forgotten in the hand-wringing over the lack of a closer, has been unforgettable and unhittable in the postseason. His perfect eighth with one strikeout brought him to 5 1/3 hitless playoff frames.
Other than the screaming Yankees fans and the long shadow of the Sox's history, the situation seemed to carry little pressure -- a three-run lead with the bases empty. Saves like this build up stats for individual relievers, a factor that has led ballclubs to the cost-cutting strategy of closer-by-committee.
But Williamson, who earned 21 saves with the Reds before the trade and has 54 in his big-league career, sees nothing cheap about such a save. After a needed day off on Tuesday, however, Williamson handled the challenge on Wednesday.
"Sometimes those are the toughest ones to close out, because sometimes I think you step back and say, 'Hey, hit the ball,'" he said. "Next thing you know, you've got a few guys on base, and then a home run ties it up. I've watched it and done it.
"I had something to prove. I think I was a little tired in the Oakland game, and I think I tried to do too much."
Williamson made sure that didn't happen. Between strikeouts, he worked Bernie Williams into a grounder to first base.
If his job defies description, that's fine with him as long as the Boston bullpen continues to be described in more positive terms than during the regular season.
"You look at the hitting and it's a positive," Williamson said. "You look at the starting pitching and it's a positive. So you need a negative somewhere and it happened to be us, the bullpen. Sometimes we're the scapegoat for a lot of things.
"But this playoff and every playoff I've watched on TV, it always seemed that it came down to the bullpen. All us guys got together and we were ready for the challenge."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.