10/14/2003 1:52 AM ET
'Pen writing a success story
Stellar work from Boston's relief unit in postseason
BOSTON -- It took Mike Timlin and the rest of Boston's bullpen took months, but they've come together just in time.
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
As has been the case all postseason, Timlin vanquished the New York Yankees in a hurry on Monday night. He breezed through three eighth-inning batters to help the Red Sox to a 3-2 victory over the Yankees at Fenway Park to tie the American League Championship Series after four games.
Timlin entered with a runner at first and no outs in the eighth, and blew away the Yankees on 14 pitches, including a strikeout of Hideki Matsui to end the frame. Timlin has led the bullpen surge by retiring all 22 postseason batters and striking out nine of them. Scott Williamson gave up a one-out homer to Ruben Sierra in the ninth, but still earned his second save of the series.
Throughout the regular season, the relievers were compared to the impediments to ultimate Sox glory -- mystical and otherwise. Sierra's homer was the first run against Sox relievers in the last 20 playoff innings. In nine total postseason games, Boston's 'pen is 2-0 with three saves and a 1.09 ERA in 24 2/3 innings.
After Monday night's game, Timlin was genuinely humbled when a local TV reporter compared the current bullpen -- with Timlin, Williamson and lefty troubleshooter Alan Embree handling the most important innings -- to the Yankees' late-inning dominators of the late 1990s.
"It's an extreme compliment ... those guys were tremendous pitchers," Timlin said. "I've never really considered myself to be in that type of class. I've been rated otherwise, and that's fine. I've always been an underdog-type guy."
There were signs that Timlin was finding his way to postseason favorite status late in the regular season.
In his first four September appearances, he gave up six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings and blew a save. But starting with the Red Sox' 11-0 victory at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 8, when he pitched a perfect eighth inning, Timlin finished the regular season with 7 1/3 scoreless innings over eight appearances, during which he gave up four hits and walked one.
Williamson has appeared in all but two postseason games and is 2-0 with two saves. He credits Timlin and Embree, who has given up no runs on three hits in four innings while usually inheriting runners, for part of his success.
"I've been feeding off him and Alan," Williamson said. "They've been doing an unbelievable job. All three of us basically somewhat throw alike. We all throw pretty hard, and we've all got pretty good breaking balls. So I watch the way they throw. It's really good that the three of us can talk about how we get guys out."
For months the talk was that the bullpen would be the Sox's undoing, mainly because they went into the regular season without a defined closer and searched for one in vain until Williamson came in a deadline trade with Cincinnati. He found his form as the regular season ended.
Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who dabbled in the stat-based closer-by-committee approach but has adjusted based on results, said he believed all along in his relievers.
"No, I'm just proud of them," Epstein said when asked if he feels vindicated. "I think they really deserve it. With all the criticism they took, they persevered and grew as a unit. Now they're out there pitching their best baseball of the year.
"I think lost in all the criticism of them was the recognition of how much talent is out there. With talent, character and hard work, you can get on a roll. That's what happened."
"We've thrown the same pitches all year," Timlin said. "Now it seems like we're getting the results at the right time."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.