Papelbon answers call to duty
Closer slams door as Sox make it two straight over Yanks
BOSTON -- As exhilarating as late-inning comebacks can be, the Red Sox opted not to go that way for a third straight day. Instead, their mission on Saturday was to protect a lead.
Good thing, then, that Jonathan Papelbon was available for duty again after his team-enforced one-day respite on Friday night.
With Johnny Damon (in a pinch-hitting capacity), Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu et al looming in the ninth inning, there was no better man for the job than Papelbon, who preserved this 7-5 victory over the Yankees with his fifth save in as many opportunities.
The righty ended Saturday by leaving Alex Rodriguez right where the Red Sox wanted him -- in the on-deck circle.
Papelbon got Damon on a grounder to short and, after a walk to Melky Cabrera, blew away Jeter on a high-octane fastball. Though the A-Rod-Papelbon clash would have been a spectator's delight, it was avoided when Abreu flew to center to end the game.
"I have great confidence every time he's on the mound," said Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "That's a good feeling. He has great stuff. He's not afraid of anyone and he executes his pitches. That's a good feeling when he comes out in the ninth. It's more the rare occasion when we don't win those games."
The second straight triumph over the Yankees left the Sox on the cusp of their first Fenway Park sweep over their rivals since 1990.
Daisuke Matsuzaka will have a chance to pull that off on Sunday night when he pitches against the Yankees for the first time.
It was another Japanese rookie who helped make the first two wins of this series possible. A day after Hideki Okajima was successful as manager Terry Francona's surprise closer, the left-hander came on in the seventh inning with two on and two out and struck out Jason Giambi, who represented the go-ahead run.
"When I'm facing a batter, I don't think of who he is or what his name is," Okajima said through translator Sachiyo Sekiguchi. "I do my pitching, that's what I bring to the table. If the batter gets my pitch, life goes on."
The lefty also retired Robinson Cano for the first out of the eighth, and then left to the roar of the Fenway faithful.
"Getting those guys out was huge," Francona said. "Giambi, that's probably the biggest at-bat of the game."
Josh Beckett, though not at his best, did enough (6 2/3 innings, nine hits, seven strikeouts) to improve to 4-0.
"I think he was at 60 pitches through three innings and then he had an eight-pitch fourth, an eight-pitch fifth," Francona said. "He ends up getting pretty deep into the game. He got his fastball in a little bit to the right-handed hitters, he threw his breaking ball for strikes and he threw enough changeups to get them off the other pitches."
Both teams scored twice in the first.
The Yankees again got to Beckett in the second, capitalizing on a throwing error by Lowell, and getting an RBI single by Cabrera and a fielder's-choice RBI from Jeter to make it 4-2.
Beckett felt as if he was pitching better than the results were indicating.
"I was just talking to our pitching coach about that," Beckett said. "I didn't really think I struggled in the first couple of innings. I thought I was throwing the ball well and they got a couple of well-placed hits in the first inning that cost me a couple runs. But a win is a win and as much as you would like to shut every team out, it's probably not going to happen."
The Red Sox were again swift in their rebuttal against spot Yankees starter Jeff Karstens. Coco Crisp and Alex Cora jump-started the bottom of the second inning with back-to-back bunt singles. They moved up to second and third on a wild pitch and Crisp scored on Julio Lugo's grounder to second. Kevin Youkilis smashed an RBI single to left to tie it up at 4.
Beckett settled down nicely, giving his offense a chance to claim the lead in the fourth. Crisp put his speed in motion again, leading off with a single, stealing second and moving to third on a sacrifice bunt by Cora. That put him in position to score on another fielder's-choice grounder by Lugo. The small ball stuff was all well and good, but David Ortiz took a much louder approach, smoking a two-run homer into the corner in right to give the Sox a 7-4 lead.
With all the talk being generated about A-Rod the last couple of days -- and rightfully so -- Ortiz (four RBIs) reminded everyone of the impact that he always seems to have on these Red Sox-Yankees games.
"He's our man. He's in our three-hole," said Papelbon. "When he comes up, he's expected to come through. He's a special, special hitter for us."
A-Rod chipped into the deficit in the seventh, lining Beckett's final pitch (No. 106) of the day into right field for an RBI single.
The bullpen took it home from there, holding the Yankees hitless for the rest of the afternoon.
Papelbon, who was rested Friday because he had pitched two straight days, was refreshed. But he didn't try to overpower the Yankees. He just did.
"I just wanted to stay closed and stay within myself," said Papelbon. "Sometimes I can get a little too pumped up, adrenaline going a lot. I have to stay composed out there."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.