Papelbon Strikes Back

It’s funny how, after a winning streak amplifies excitement about a team, it only takes one loss to deflate the bubble and bring a return to the grousing. Or at least that’s the way it works in Boston.

After last night’s walk-off loss, I woke up to doomsday chatter on WEEI about Schilling and the state of the bullpen. I try not to give in to the reactionary moods of talk radio, but in this case I couldn’t work up the mental energy to disagree. Losing a late lead does suck — especially to the Tigers. Just a few days ago, sportswriters were giving the Sox a free return pass to the World Series. But this morning, with the Yankees only 3.5 games back, everyone wants to stamp question marks all over the season.

So, perfect time for Jonathan Papelbon to get his second start, right? Nothing in baseball engenders good feelings about the future of a franchise like a young, hard-throwing starter. And he did the job. Not perfect, and again he didn’t get the win — but the Sox pulled it out. What a weird, fun game. The teams combined for 5 runs in the first 8 innings, then 12 runs in the next two.

Pitching highlight: In the second, Papelbon got three outs on four pitches. After giving up a leadoff hit, he threw three strikes to Brandon Inge, and Omar Infante hit the next pitch into a double play. Dang! Okay, that sort of sequence is mostly luck, and I’m sure it happens to plenty of mediocre pitchers, but still, when it comes off the arm of a 24-year-old in his 7th inning of major-league work, it’s good stuff. Also good stuff: Two HRs for Varitek, and two for Big Papi — the game-tier in the 9th and a 3-run shot in the 10th. Dang, indeed.

But all that optimism was a little purer before Remlinger gave four runs back in the bottom of the 10th. How many more chances can the Sox afford to give this guy? At least he recorded an out, and his post-trade ERA is a finite number now. Though really, to a pitcher, 54.00 isn’t much better than infinity. Any scrub can give up a run without recording an out, but to allow 9 runs (6 earned) in just one inning spread over three appearances… that is impressive.

Scott Proctor walked in the winning run for the Devil Rays, and the Yankees return to 4.5 games behind the Sox. I’ll never understand why managers will take a pitcher who can’t find the strike zone, have them intentionally walk the bases loaded, and then leave them in to face the next guy. Pitchers almost always seem to have extra trouble throwing strikes after an IBB.

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