Jonathan Papelbon has saved more games in a season than any Red Sox rookie ever, saved more games than Keith Foulke did in the World Series year, saved more games than anyone had a reasonable right to expect.
But when called upon last night to save a season -- the Red Sox one out away from stalling a relentless Yankee march toward October -- Papelbon came face to face with Derek Jeter.
Jeter claimed another victim, spoiling an otherwise sizzling performance by Papelbon (a career-high five strikeouts) with an opposite-field single that floated to right field and fell a few feet in front of Gabe Kapler. That hit scored Melky Cabrera, who had opened the ninth with a double and taken third on a wild pitch, and tied the score at 5.
Mariano Rivera pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth and the teams went into extras.
Jason Giambi (5 RBIs) hit his second home run of the night, and 36th of the season, off Craig Hansen to open the 10th, Jorge Posada followed with a two-run homer, and the Bombers made it four straight wins over the Sox with an 8-5 triumph.
With 39 games to play, the Sox fell 5 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the American League East while remaining 4 games behind the White Sox in the wild-card race.
In his last 10 appearances dating to July 29, Hansen has allowed 13 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings with an ERA of 11.32.
``Stunned," said Boston starter Curt Schilling, who left with a 5-3 lead and pitched seven strong innings despite a 57-minute rain delay.
``Rough night. You've been outpitched, outhit, and outplayed four games in a row. We'll just to have to strap it on one more time tomorrow and win.
``We put ourselves in this hole. What are our choices. We've still got to play 'em, try to win 'em all.
``This is tough. We've been outplayed four straight games. We're shorthanded, but we've still got enough talent to win. We just haven't played consistently in any facet of the game."
What undoubtedly will draw the most scrutiny among Sox followers was manager Terry Francona's decision not to start the eighth with Papelbon, who had not pitched in the series and had last appeared Wednesday against the Tigers, when he threw just six pitches to set down Detroit in order for his 32d save.
Instead, Francona did not summon Papelbon until the bases were loaded with Bombers in the eighth. Johnny Damon, facing Mike Timlin, singled off Mark Loretta's glove, and Jeter was hit by a pitch. In came Javier Lopez, the lefthander newly summoned from Pawtucket, to face Bobby Abreu. Abreu drew a full-count walk.
Only then did Francona go to Papelbon to face Giambi, who lined out to the track in right to bring home Damon to make it 5-4. Papelbon walked Alex Rodriguez on a full count, then struck out Robinson Cano and Posada.
But that only delayed the torture that followed.
``Where we were," Francona said, ``I wanted Timlin to face two batters and Lopez one."
Francona said he didn't want Papelbon to be summoned to throw 40 pitches. He wound up throwing 42.
``It ended up exactly like we didn't want to have it happen," the manager said. ``He ended up with more of a load because it was bases loaded and he still ended up throwing two innings.
``I just don't think, and I understand the importance of the game, I don't think long term it's the way we can win games. We have to be able to get some people out."
David Ortiz led off the Sox ninth with what was scored a bad-hop double, but despite loading the bases, the Sox could not crack Rivera, who struck out newcomer Eric Hinske (pinch-hitting for Kapler) and retiring Doug Mirabelli on a tapper to the mound.
``That's not fair," Ortiz said. ``They should let us win that game, huh?
``It's not fair, man. Those guys aren't playing around. Not too much you can say, man.
``You know how it is when things are not going well. Like I always say, you've got to keep fighting."
Hansen left the clubhouse quickly without comment. It appeared he may have been called into Francona's office for a postgame chat.
Yankees manager Joe Torre, meanwhile, was buoyant, regardless of the hour.
``I knew I felt good coming into this series, but you could never imagine this was going to be the case," he said.
``Papelbon was basically unhittable. We got a couple of base hits, and [he] made a good pitch on Jeter and he was able to fight it off. This could have been the most incredible [game] of all."
Perhaps the greatest adversary faced by Schilling was the weather. With lightning illuminating the skies above the Fens and the rain coming down in sheets, play was interrupted at 8:51 p.m. after Alex Cora rolled to first to end the second inning.
A long enough delay and the Sox would have been deprived of their ace, who obviously was holding nothing back from the game's first batter, when he left Damon's bat in splinters, then had Abreu flailing at a third-strike splitter to end the first.
Most teams are reluctant to send a pitcher back to the mound if he's forced to endure too long a wait, fearing injury.
But the electrical storm passed, the rain let up, and the grounds crew worked with an alacrity that allowed play to resume at 9:48 p.m., a delay of only those 57 minutes.
Both starters, Schilling and Mike Mussina, picked up where they left off, Mussina already having been touched for two runs on four straight Sox hits in the first -- singles by Loretta and Ortiz, a double to the left-center gap by Manny Ramírez, and another single lined to center by Kevin Youkilis.
Schilling, meanwhile, needed just seven pitches to dispense of the Yankees in the third, a welcome departure from the previous three games, in which Sox starters Jason Johnson, Jon Lester, and Josh Beckett required 311 pitches to work their way through 13 2/3 innings.
The Yankees got to him just once all night -- in the fourth, when Giambi followed singles by Jeter and Abreu by crushing a 95 mile-an-hour Schilling fastball deep into the right-field seats for a three-run home run and a 3-2 Yankees lead.
``I came out of the rain delay and got three outs in the third on some real bad pitches," said Schilling. ``I knew I was going to have to be sharper, and I didn't do it until it was 3-2 in the fourth."
The Sox drew even in the home half of the fourth. Ramírez, who entered the game with six hits in nine at-bats in the series, singled to open the inning. Nick Green, subbing for Rodriguez at third, made a diving stop of Youkilis's ground ball and threw in time to force Ramírez at second. Mike Lowell followed with a base hit that sent Youkilis to second, and Mirabelli, in one of the better at-bats of the night, fought off a tough pitch and hit a jam-shot single to right to score Youkilis.
That would be Mussina's last inning, the Yankees' 13-game winner yielding to lefty Ron Villone. His departure was attributed to a strained groin.
Villone gave up Ortiz's 44th home run, over the Sox bullpen, with two out in the fifth as the Sox regained the lead, 4-3.
Schilling pushed on, and allowed just one more hit after the fourth, when Abreu singled to open the sixth. Schilling put away Giambi for the first time on the night, getting him to chase a 1-and-2 splitter, but created a crisis for himself when he threw wildly to first in an attempt to pick off Abreu, who sped to third.
But on the next pitch, Schilling induced Rodriguez to pop to Lowell in front of the plate, then coaxed another popup from Cano to end the inning.
Schilling set down the last three Yankees he faced, catching Green on a called third strike, waving his cap in acknowledgment of the thunderous ovation he received from the soggy sellout crowd of 36,155.
Walks? After 28 free passes issued by Sox pitchers in the first three games, Schilling walked only one, a two-out pass to Posada in the fourth.
Two walks in the seventh, including an intentional one to Ramírez, by Mike Myers, set up the Sox' fifth run, which came on Youkilis's single off Scott Proctor.
An error by Cano loaded the bases, but Proctor struck out Wily Mo Pena and Mirabelli lined to right.