Bullpen weathers storm
Bizarre play leads to two runs; Delcarmen puts out late fire
NEW YORK -- Rain was coming in steady drops, but the Red Sox's bullpen had dealt with far worse over the past week. It was the bottom of the seventh inning, and Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen were trying to protect a victory for Josh Beckett amid a sudden rally by the Yankees on Friday afternoon.
But this was more than just trying to keep Beckett and the Red Sox in the win column. It was about two relievers who had dealt with different types of storm clouds in recent days -- the type that thundered in the form of big hits by the opposition. What this was really about was two relievers trying to prove that they can still be counted on with the game on the line.
In this instance, they succeeded, providing relief in the tensest of moments and leading the Sox to a 6-4 victory over their rivals. In fact, the Red Sox have taken the first two of this four-game series after arriving in the Bronx in the throes of a five-game losing streak.
"I think we came out and swung the bats," said Mike Lowell, who belted a three-run homer in the fifth to snap a 3-3 tie. "We've been doing it pretty well for the last two days. We're banging out a lot of hits. I think we're playing according to our strengths. I think that's more our style."
But before enjoying the win, the Red Sox first had to sit through a one-hour and 28-minute rain delay in the top of the eighth.
"It was a long day, but it ends up being a good day," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
It also ended up being kind of a wild day. Kevin Youkilis drilled one of the most bizarre two-run triples you will see in the top of the third. Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon went racing to the wall and nearly made a brilliant catch. As Damon went to the ground in pain, the baseball sat on the ledge atop the wall for a few seconds before falling back into play. A stunned Youkilis roared to third and the game was tied at 3.
Damon had to leave the game with a left shoulder contusion.
"You know when Johnny leaves a game, something's wrong," said Francona. "We had a bad view. It looked to me like it almost stayed on top of the wall. That's what it looked like. He almost caught it, he almost ran through the wall. It's a huge play. Johnny is not going to shortchange on effort."
The next bit of drama came in the bottom of the seventh. Okajima, who came on with a 6-3 lead, got off to a bad start, issuing a single to Melky Cabrera and a walk to Jose Molina. But he got Brett Gardner on a grounder to shortstop before a walk to Derek Jeter created the ultimate drama -- bases loaded with Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez due next.
Okajima could exhale after Abreu popped one right through the soaking sky and into the mitt of Youkilis at first base.
"I thought Okajima came in and did a good job, even though he kind of got himself in a situation to where it could have backfired," said Beckett. "I thought he did a really good job getting Abreu to pop out."
But nobody had a tougher task than Delcarmen, who merely had to end his slump head-on by facing arguably the game's best hitter with the bases loaded. Delcarmen threw four straight offspeed pitches to A-Rod, getting him on a 1-2 curveball that was grounded to third, averting the potential crisis.
"Coming in there with the bases loaded is always a tough jam," said Delcarmen. "I'm just glad I got him out. We started out on a first-pitch curveball, [but it] kind of slipped out of my hand. We normally pound him in. He was expecting a changeup inside. [I] threw him another curveball, swing and a miss. The ground ball he hit -- I wanted to bury the curveball -- I left it up a little bit. It was enough to have him hit it on the ground."
And nobody was more pleased about that than Okajima, who saw all his inherited runners go back to the dugout instead of crossing home plate.
"He said thank you to me like five times already," said Delcarmen. "It's part of baseball. I'll have runners on and he'll do the same thing for me."
And then there were more bullpen fires to put out. Lefty specialist Javy Lopez got a key double-play ball from Robinson Cano in the eighth. And Jonathan Papelbon, who hadn't pitched in a week, overcame some trouble in the ninth to record save No. 25.
Papelbon got a pair of quick outs before walking Gardner and almost ending the game when Coco Crisp appeared to make a diving catch on Derek Jeter. Instead, third-base umpire Wally Bell ruled that Crisp trapped the ball, and it went as an RBI double.
But Papelbon bounced back and got Abreu on a flyout to deep center, ending the game.
"I thought our bullpen did a pretty good job tonight," said Papelbon. "We went out there and did our job. When it all boils down to it, we were able to keep our ballclub in the game. That's all that matters."
As for Beckett, he rebounded from a shaky opening inning and wound up going six innings for his eighth victory. The right-hander allowed three runs -- none after the first -- while walking two and striking out four.
"I don't know that I really had a groove today," said Beckett. "It was just one of those deals. I made pitches when I had to."
The offense had its moments as well. Lowell had two hits and drove in four runs. Jacoby Ellsbury (3-for-5, two bunt singles) and red-hot Dustin Pedroia (2-for-4, two runs) created their fair share of havoc.
However, the bullpen probably savored the victory more than anyone else.
"Everybody in our bullpen is such a big part of this team," said catcher Jason Varitek. "And we need them -- we need them to throw well."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.