Boston's bullpen wills a win in Game 6
Okajima, Masterson and Papelbon turn in four hitless innings
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jonathan Papelbon doesn't need a radar gun to know how he's throwing. To him, radar guns only help hitters. He could tell what he had warming up in the bullpen, and he knew it wasn't his usual stuff.
He also knew that it didn't really matter in terms of his job.
"Obviously, I'm pretty beat up, just like everybody else is in this clubhouse," Papelbon said, "but we've got to kind of find a way to will ourselves through innings, will ourselves through at-bats. That's kind of what we've been doing."
Armed with a fastball that topped out at 92-93 mph rather than his usual mid- to upper-90s, Papelbon willed himself into an eight-pitch ninth inning, much like the three effective innings of relief before him. As a result, the Red Sox have willed themselves out of a 3-1 series deficit to force Game 7 after Saturday's 4-2 win in Game 6.
On a night when Josh Beckett battled through five innings to let Boston take a slim lead to the bullpen, it was the relief corps that picked up the extra work and made it stick. Hideki Okajima pitched two scoreless innings for the third time this series. Justin Masterson again belied his rookie status, overcoming a leadoff walk to escape the eighth.
Then came Papelbon, whose outing typified what the Red Sox are battling these days.
"The aches and pains are nothing new," Papelbon said. "For me, in these things, if I don't have my A-plus fastball, I'd better have my A-plus mental approach and my A-plus headset. My head was right tonight. My head stayed focused into what my job was at hand. My head stayed pitch-to-pitch. I was able to throw pitches tonight and preserve a victory."
None of Boston's relievers allowed a hit Saturday. Add in five innings of relief in Thursday's comeback victory, and they've thrown the equivalent of a complete game over a 48-hour span -- nine innings of three-hit ball with two runs allowed and six strikeouts.
With Game 7 looming Sunday, they'll be back on call with a potentially quick hook, though they're hoping it isn't necessary with Jon Lester going. Another night of long work might be asking the impossible, but another night of effective work might be the key to completing this comeback victory.
The decision to go to the bullpen so early, Farrell said, came down to the combination of Beckett working with a delay (due to an injury to home-plate umpire Derryl Cousins) earlier in the game and the chance to let Okajima work with a clean slate, rather than bring him in with runners on base.
Okajima got a lineout from B.J. Upton, then spotted a third strike inside on Carlos Pena. After overcoming a two-out walk to Evan Longoria, the Japanese lefty ended that threat and retired the side in order in the seventh.
Okajima pitched two full innings just three times in the regular season. He's matched that total in this series, essentially connecting the starters to the late-inning corps.
"He's given us a lot," manager Terry Francona said. "In situations where we've needed multiple innings, he's bridged that where we don't get that line moving in that bullpen and it kind of settles down and we have some semblance of order out there."
The order could've been changed. Though Papelbon was ready for the ninth, the closer said he was on call for the seventh or the eighth if they needed a big out. In that case, they would've turned to one of their other relievers for the save. That's how elimination games work, and that's why the middle innings become crucial.
"It starts with the first guy out of our bullpen," Papelbon said. "He kinds of sets the tone. He throws up zeros and it's kind of like a domino effect."
Masterson fell in line in the eighth, though it took a visit from Farrell to get him there. A leadoff hit-by-pitch to Jason Bartlett and a 2-0 count to Akinori Iwamura prompted the visit to settle him down.
"'Just slow it down a little bit and let your pitches do the work,'" Masterson said Farrell told him. "I knew that was exactly what he was going to say when he came out there. He really just kind of gave me that time."
From there, Masterson threw all strikes. He fanned Iwamura, then induced popups from Upton and Pena.
Papelbon took care of the rest, retiring Longoria, Carl Crawford and Willy Aybar in order. The fact that it wasn't his best stuff made him appreciate it more.
"These games are really one-of-a-kind for me," he said. "Because when you know you don't have your A-plus stuff out there, and you're able to go out there and will yourself to a win, those are special ones for me."
One more win will make it all the more special for the group if they have a few more innings left.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.