Pen is authoring an impressive postscript
Of all the wonders of the 2003 postseason, none may be more remarkable than the performance of the long-ridiculed Red Sox bullpen. By the time Mike Timlin and Scott Williamson finished off the Yankees last night in a 3-2 victory that put the World Series Express back on track, the Sox pen's postseason ERA was a dazzling 1.09.
Opposing hitters? They are batting just .127 (10 for 79) in the playoffs, with the Yankees (.148) faring only slightly better than the A's (.115) against the Sox relief corps.
What a turnaround for a crew that manager Grady Little not long ago suggested made him feel as uncertain about his security as he feels when he buckles his seatbelt on a jet flight.
"I think Grady has confidence that he can go to the bullpen now and know we're going to get the job done," Williamson said. "That takes a lot of stress off his shoulders, by all means."
Timlin, perhaps the godfather of postseason veterans in the Sox clubhouse since he owns World Series rings that date to 1992 and '93 with the Blue Jays, retired three Yankees in order in relief of Tim Wakefield in the eighth inning to extend his streak of perfect innings in the postseason this year to 7 1/3. In retiring all 22 batters he faced in the playoffs, Timlin has allowed only five balls out of the infield.
He said his postseason experience has helped him thrive, as he did last night when he stranded the lone runner he inherited.
"I've done this run," Timlin said of appearing in 10 postseason series with the Jays, Cardinals, and Sox since 1991. "I'm just enjoying the atmosphere. I'm enjoying the opportunity to come out and play in the postseason again. And I haven't been traded to the get to the postseason [as he was in 2000 to St. Louis]. I've gone from Day 1 with these guys. It makes it a little more special."
With the Sox leading, 3-1, and Jason Giambi on first after drawing a walk off Wakefield, Timlin was hit as hard as he has been all postseason as Bernie Williams laced a shot to the warning track in center. But Johnny Damon made a fine, sprinting catch to snag the drive. Timlin then got Jorge Posada to bounce out to first, sending Giambi to second, before he blew a third strike past Hideki Matsui to preserve the lead.
That left it to Williamson, the postseason closer, to face the bottom of the Yankee order in the ninth. Williamson, who had not allowed an earned run over six innings in six appearances in the playoffs, started by overpowering Nick Johnson on strikes, with his fastball reaching 95 miles per hour. Then he grew even more emboldened when he jumped ahead of pinch hitter Ruben Sierra in the count, 1-and-2.
That prompted Williamson to try to blow a fastball by Sierra, only to watch the ball sail toward the bleachers for a solo shot that lifted the Yankees within a run.
"If it was a different situation, I probably would have thrown a breaking ball to Ruben," Williamson said. "I probably wouldn't have tried to blow it past him, but with a two-run lead you want him to the hit the ball. He could have just as easily popped it up, but he hit it out of the park."
Still, Williamson maintained his composure.
"I was little mad because he hit the homer," he said, "but I wasn't mad at the way I was pitching because I wanted to go at him as hard as I could."
Williamson responded by fanning the next two batters, David Dellucci and Alfonso Soriano, to pick up his second save in as many victories for the Sox in the American League Championship Series.
"We accidentally made a mistake to Ruben and he capitalized, but we could afford to make a mistake there," catcher Jason Varitek said. "[Timlin] and Willie did a great job."'
Which is hardly news, considering their recent run of success.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.