10/06/07 2:47 AM ET
Bullpen handcuffs Halos
With game on line, Red Sox's relief corps buckles down
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
"I think, from top to bottom, our bullpen was lights out," said closer Jonathan Papelbon, who was the winning pitcher thanks to Manny Ramirez's three-run walk-off homer over the Green Monster.
Dice-K started for Boston, but he struggled, allowing three runs in the second inning after his teammates gave him a 2-0 lead in the first.
Matsuzaka "was just a little off," catcher Jason Varitek said. "He was a few pitches here and there from really locking in."
Matsuzaka retired the first two batters he faced in the fifth before making a mental mistake by not covering the bag on Maicer Izturis' liner that first baseman Kevin Youkilis couldn't handle. Izturis then stole second before Casey Kotchman walked. When Matsuzaka issued a wild pitch on his 96th pitch of the game to send Izturis to third, Francona had seen enough.
"It was a lot of pitches -- a lot of deep counts," Francona said. "I thought even when he worked and started ahead, he found a way to get himself back into hitters' counts. But the one thing I will say, he didn't cave, he didn't give in. And again, it was earlier than we want to, but we weren't out of reach."
The Red Sox's bullpen would come on to pitch 4 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball to preserve the win. Echoing Francona, Varitek said Dice-K had a lot to do with the bullpen's success.
"It did start with Dice, it kept the game where it was," Varitek said. "We were within striking distance and he didn't let the game get away. And it started with a big out there from Javvy [Lopez], a strong inning or so from Manny [Delcarmen] -- and an inning or an 1 2/3 from [Hideki Okajima], and [Jonathan Papelbon] had to work, too. So it's good guys had to get out there and have to work a little bit, especially when it's been a few days [since the bullpen had worked]."
Lopez pitched to one batter and closed out the fifth. Delcarmen then came in and added 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. He also hit Vladimir Guerrero in the left shoulder, which eventually forced the Angels right fielder from the game with a left shoulder contusion.
"We've got to pitch inside to him," Delcarmen said. "It just slipped out of my hand. It wasn't intentional or anything."
Okajima followed Delcarmen and pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings before giving way to Papelbon with two out in the eighth.
Papelbon normally pitches only the ninth if the Red Sox are leading. But this is the postseason, and Francona did not want to get beat with his best weapon on the bench and a day off on Saturday. So he brought in Papelbon earlier than usual.
"I knew that the postseason, you've got to be ready to be in there early," Papelbon said. "And I prepared that way. I knew that in that situation, if I could hold the ballgame there and us being at home, we had a really, really good opportunity to win the ballgame."
The Red Sox closer threw one pitch to Howie Kendrick and got what he wanted with a grounder to third, but Mike Lowell's throwing error allowed the Angels to put the potential go-ahead run aboard. Kendrick stole second, prompting Angels manager Mike Scioscia to send Juan Rivera to the plate to pinch-hit for catcher Jeff Mathis, who had a 1-1 count. With Rivera batting, Kendrick stole third before Rivera walked to bring Chone Figgins to the plate.
Reggie Willits pinch-ran for Rivera and quickly stole second to put two runners in scoring position.
But Papelbon's two-strike splitter froze Figgins, who could only watch strike three pass by, and the threat was over. Papelbon pumped his fist in an emotional display as he headed to Boston's dugout.
"[It was the] biggest pitch of the night for me," Papelbon said. "Obviously that was a momentum shifter for us, I think. Getting him out with those two guys on [was huge] and the momentum went back into our dugout."
Papelbon retired the Angels on three popups to shortstop in the ninth and picked up the win on Ramirez's home run.
"I think the whole thing about our bullpen is it all started with Javier Lopez going out there, getting the job done," Papelbon said. "Down there in the bullpen, once we get the ball rolling, everybody follows in suit. That's what we've been doing all year long. We kind of just feed off each other."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.