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Closer couldn't put a stop to it

Papelbon added fuel to the fire

Jonathan Papelbon didn't throw in the towel - he just chewed on it - after his blown save vs. the Yankees. Jonathan Papelbon didn't throw in the towel - he just chewed on it - after his blown save vs. the Yankees. (BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF)

He made his escape from the Red Sox clubhouse quickly after last night's game, eluding a pack of reporters as he slid out the door. But the stunned look on Jonathan Papelbon's face while he sat in the dugout last night, right arm wrapped in ice, after a disastrous eighth inning said it all.

The fire-breathing, fist-pumping closer who has been one of the best in the game this year couldn't escape the Yankees' bats, as Papelbon picked up his third loss of the year in an 8-7 comeback win for New York.

Papelbon allowed two inherited Yankees to score plus two of his own in a rare eighth-inning appearance, as he and Hideki Okajima - the usual pillars of a bullpen with the lowest ERA in the major leagues - let a victory slip away.

"It's definitely uncharacteristic, but they are human and they're going to have that happen," said first baseman Kevin Youkilis. "Unfortunately, it was today in a game like that, but for us we can't get too down on it."

The loss was eerily similar to Papelbon's first of the season, as the decisive hit came off the bat of Alex Rodriguez. On June 3, it was a home run to right-center. Last night, it was a single up the middle to score Bobby Abreu, A-Rod's 141st RBI of the season proving to be the difference.

Sox manager Terry Francona's plan for the eighth, which began with a 7-2 Red Sox lead, was to start with Okajima, and bring in Papelbon if the Yankees made it to Derek Jeter, scheduled to be the fifth batter of the inning.

By the time Jeter stepped to the plate, he represented the tying run in a 7-4 game, with runners on second and third. A hairy situation, for sure, but Papelbon hadn't allowed a run in 15 2/3 innings.

"It wasn't the way we drew it up, but we always feel good when Pap is in the game," Francona said.

From the first pitch, it unraveled. Papelbon came inside on Jeter, who fisted a ball to right field, scoring Melky Cabrera and cutting the lead to two.

"He jammed Jeter," Francona said. "[Jeter] fights off balls better than anyone in the league."

Next came Abreu. Lefthanders were hitting .088 against Papelbon this year, but he allowed Abreu to slam a missile of a double to center, driving in two runs to tie the game, with Abreu advancing to third on the throw home.

That brought Rodriguez to the plate and the infield in. Rodriguez took an 0-and-1 fastball back up the middle, and the Yankees took the lead.

"At that point, we're in a situation where all of a sudden runs are at a premium instead of maybe outs," Francona said. "We had to play the infield in and the game changes a lot by the time he's in there."

Rodriguez's single marked the first time Papelbon had allowed three straight hits in his career. Papelbon got Jorge Posada to ground out, then struck out Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi, but the damage was done and the Yankees had completed an improbable comeback.

Papelbon's ERA jumped from 1.52 to 1.82 with his third blown save of the season, the first since July 28 against Tampa Bay.

"They're going to come back tomorrow and the next day, hopefully, and go out and pitch well," Youkilis said of Papelbon and Okajima, who also didn't entertain reporters' queries.

"That's the thing. They're going to have ups and downs, but they've been doing a great job for us all year and you can't get too upset about it."

Papelbon, nonetheless, appeared pretty upset. The outing produced his scowl in the dugout, as captured by television cameras in the bottom of the eighth, and his speedy exit.

Said third baseman Mike Lowell, "I think you can say he probably wasn't too happy."

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