It's 2-1 and the game is entering the bottom of the ninth inning. The Rangers have Rod Barajas, Laynce Nix, and Brad Wilkerson coming to the plate. Who do you call on to save the game?
Before last night, I would have assumed manager Terry Francona would have called the 'pen to get Keith Foulke warmed up. But to everyones confusion, he kept Jonathan Papelbon warming and brought him in to save a crucial ballgame.
And it worked. Strikeout, pop-out, and a strikeout. Papelbon was money, while Foulke sat on the bench out in the bullpen chewing his sunflower seeds.
But before we dive deeper into the mysteries of Francona's decision, I must mention that starter Josh Beckett had a great game on the mound for the Sox. He struggled in the first inning by giving up a few hits and throwing a wild-pitch, but from there on out the big Texan mowed down the powerful Rangers lineup with consistency.
And thanks to Trot Nixon, Beckett was able to earn the win. Rangers' starter Kameron Loe had one mistake: delivering the fatal pitch to Nixon that he belted for two-run home run in the seventh inning. Without that, the Sox may be looking at a 1-2 record.
Back to Francona, Papelbon and Foulke. Did Francona know that Foulke would have blown the lead and give up the game? He's been saying all along that Foulke is the closer, but did his mind have the better over his heart? It certainly looked like it last night.
Three games into the season, and I'm very excited. Remember back to last season when Jonathan Papelbon first got the call up. I noticed two things then: 1) he was nervous and 2) Francona didn't have a lot of faith in him. Now, however, everything has changed.
I watched Papelbon last night and I saw a pitcher that knew how to pitch and knew that he could get those hitters out. I saw a pitcher that wasn't afraid to throw all of his pitches, or just stick with what works. Most importantly, I saw a proven pitcher.
And I saw a manager that can trust his proven player in Papelbon. With a 2-1 lead going into the 8th and the knowledge that he wasn't going to use Foulke, Francona had his whole bullpen, which included Mike Timlin, a pitcher he knew he was going to use. He went with Timlin, a spot-on relief pitcher last year that even had a good run at the closer position for a chunk of last season. That left Papelbon, a pitcher with all of 34 innings under his belt, to close out the game. And, to put it simply, he was a stud.
It seems Francona is no longer blinded by friendship, as he has been at times over the past couple of seasons. As Dan Shaughnessy wrote this morning, "the Red Sox said they wanted to be more like the Patriots. What we're seeing here is a Belichickian move. No emotion. No concern about contracts. Just go with the best guy. It's bloodless and it's correct."
The best guy is Jonathan Papelbon.