10/17/08 3:05 AM EST
Sox's bullpen makes comeback reality
Okajima, Papelbon headline superb relief work in ALCS Game 5
By Mark Remme / MLB.com
On a normal night, the Red Sox skipper wouldn't tap into his resources like lefty reliever Hideki Okajima or closer Jonathan Papelbon until late in the ballgame. They are, after all, the staples of the back end of Boston's bullpen that helped the team win the 2007 World Series.
But with the Red Sox trailing the Rays, 5-0, in the fifth inning in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series -- with Boston down, 3-1, in the best-of-seven set -- things changed.
Desperation set in. On Thursday, it was the perfect remedy.
Okajima entered in the fifth inning and Papelbon pitched the seventh and eighth, as the Red Sox's bullpen allowed just two runs on three hits in five innings, holding strong and letting Boston's offense take over in a come-from-behind 8-7 win at Fenway Park.
"I think that was kind of the game plan as we kind of went into it," said Justin Masterson, who pitched the ninth inning and earned the win. "Okajima and Pap hadn't thrown in the last game, so they were ready to go. So we worked into the game plan. We hoped it would be closer at the time, but it worked out OK."
Okajima, Papelbon and Masterson all pitched scoreless baseball. Manny Delcarmen was the lone member of the 'pen touched up, charged with two runs after walking a pair of runners in the seventh inning.
The Rays just couldn't muster the same offensive power that yielded five runs and three homers off starter Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Okajima and Papelbon set the tone.
Working much earlier in the contest to help keep the Red Sox in the game, each pitched a pair of innings and each recorded two strikeouts.
Okajima pitched the fifth and sixth and immediately proved to be a difference-maker. The lefty inherited a runner from Matsuzaka, and after a B.J. Upton strikeout, he allowed a bunt single to Carlos Pena. But he wouldn't allow another baserunner.
Papelbon hurled 38 pitches, a steep number for the closer. Still, it didn't interrupt his intensity on the hill.
"[You] stay right there, stay in the moment and focus on the job at hand," Papelbon said. "That was it."
Papelbon was summoned in the seventh to relieve Delcarmen after a pair of walks. He closed out the inning, despite allowing a hit to Upton that plated both runners.
After an RBI single by Dustin Pedroia and a three-run homer by David Ortiz in the bottom of the seventh, Francona asked his closer to return to the hill. His task was simply to not allow the Rays to respond to the Sox's rally and get his team back to the plate.
Papelbon did just that. The closer struck out two and forced a flyout to center in the top of the eighth, quickly getting his offense back up in the bottom half of the frame.
"We did some unbelievable things," Francona said. "Pap went out there another inning. He was gassed from the first inning. So we get to keep playing, and that's truly thrilling."
Papelbon, who never holds his emotions back on the mound, let out a big scream to let his teammates know that it was far from over.
"I knew it was do-or-die time," he said. "You try to fire up the troops and keep going."
Masterson pitched a scoreless ninth, setting up J.D. Drew's game-winning hit in the bottom half of the frame. What looked impossible just innings before was complete -- both teams were heading back to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
It was unconventional, but both Papelbon and Okajima showed once again why they're pivotal parts of the Red Sox's success. Early use, but similar results.
"We were at a point in the season where it's all or nothing, backs up against the wall," shortstop Jed Lowrie said. "We've got to use the guys who we've hung our hats on all year. You just go out there, use the guys you've relied on all year and whatever happens, happens."
Mark Remme is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.