TORONTO — For the first time in his major league career, Jonathan Papelbon was taken out in the ninth inning in a tie game as a reliever (due to factors not involving an injury), Thursday. After the Red Sox’ 6-5 loss to the Blue Jays — in which Papelbon surrendered three runs in the ninth for the third time this season — the Sox’ closer said he understood why Sox manager Terry Francona made the move to go to Daniel Bard with one out, the Sox up by a run and the bases loaded. (Click here to see ‘Closing Time’ for a recap.)
“You want to finish games, that’s my job. I want to finish games,” Papelbon explained. “But I think the fact of the matter is that I didn’t execute my job and you pass it on to somebody else.”
Despite showing some of the best velocity he has possessed all season (hitting 99 mph on one occasion), Papelbon said that when it came to life on his fastball it wasn’t one of his better days.
“I didn’t have much power or energy in my delivery today,” he explained. When asked if he felt like that warming up in the bullpen, Papelbon responded, “Just most of the day. Just kind of a groggy day for me.”
Papelbon’s struggles began after replacing John Lackey after the Red Sox’ starter surrendered a leadoff homer to Jose Bautista in the ninth inning. With the Sox holding a two-run lead, the reliever came on and immediately allowed three straight hits — a double to Vernon Wells, Adam Lind’s single up the middle, and a single by Aaron Hill that rifled off the closer’s foot.
Papelbon did come back to strike out Travis Snider with pinch-runner DeWayne Wise at third representing the tying run. But Edwin Encarnacion managed to jump all over a slider for a game-tying double down the left field line, leading Papelbon to intentionally walk Lyle Overbay and subsequently leave the game in favor of Bard.
“Leaving the ball up in the zone,” he said when asked what went wrong. “It just seemed every one of my pitches today was up in the zone in a pressure situation and obviously that can’t happen.”
Bard couldn’t duplicate the same magic he performed Monday afternoon in New York when he came on with the bases loaded and nobody out in the seventh inning and got out of it unscathed. This time Toronto’s Fred Lewis’ managed to elevate a fly ball to center field just deep enough to score Hill with the game-winner.
“I think he grounds it out half the time. It’s definitely where I wanted it,” said Bard of the pitch. “It’s almost impossible, but I got out of it the other day. It wasn’t the ninth so that’s the difference. There’s no room for error there, at all. Just some tough luck and some tough hops.”
Asked what his strategy coming into the situation was, Bard explained that a strikeout wasn’t on his mind.
“I’m trying to get a double play. That’s our best shot of getting out of it,” he said. “If I try to go punch-out that increases my chances of walking him and throwing balls out of the zone. I have to pitch with my best stuff in the zone in that situation, try to get a ground ball or an infield pop up. Something soft.”
Asked about taking out Papelbon for the first time in the middle of the ninth, Francona cited what the situation called for.
“Sometimes the games dictate … it’s not an ego thing,” the Sox’ manager said. “Just trying to win the game. More of a … at that point, we’re trying to keep the ball out of the air. Pap was up. It’s probably not the best way. Just trying to keep that game going.”
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