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Red Sox Notebook

Papelbon a little thrown off by schedule

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / March 25, 2008

TOKYO - Truth be told, Jonathan Papelbon would rather be back in the City of Palms than the Land of the Rising Sun.

Papelbon was credited with the save in today's 6-5, 10-inning win over the Oakland Athletics in the season opener, but that was due more to a statistical obligation than merit. Called upon to protect a two-run lead, Papelbon walked the first man he faced, Daric Barton, struck out the next hitter, Jack Cust, then gave up three consecutive hits.

Only a capital base-running offense by Emil Brown, who was caught in a rundown after doubling home Barton, spared Papelbon, who retired Kurt Suzuki on a tapper to first on his 23d pitch, a total that almost certainly means he will not work against the Athletics tonight.

"Everybody is having a tough time adjusting and getting ready to play this early in the season," Papelbon said. "At the same time, it was a battle of willpower, I think."

Papelbon was asked which required more adjustment, the fact that the team is playing games that count at an earlier point than any other team in history, or the long flight from Fort Myers, Fla., to Tokyo.

"I think it's a matter of everything," he said. "The trip, everything else. At the same time, we have to play with the cards we've been dealt, keep moving forward. You can't come up with excuses."

Papelbon said he hasn't been sleeping with regularity.

"It's a matter of having to get my body back to 100 percent," he said. "When to sleep, when not to sleep. I get up in the middle of the night, get up, then go back to bed."

He also is disturbed that after playing two games that count here, the Sox go to Los Angeles for three exhibition games against the Dodgers. That requires a ramping down of intensity for a closer who relies on adrenaline to be successful.

"We've got A ball kids from Lancaster coming to help us out," said Papelbon. "It's like, jeez, I don't understand it sometimes. But what are you going to do? What am I going to be able to do? Nothing.

"But the biggest thing is we pulled out a win today."

Papelbon said he also was affected by a couple of borderline calls by plate umpire Rick Reed when Barton walked.

"I let the umpire get into my head today," Papelbon said. "That's going to happen, but you've got to hang with them. That was not a good job on my part today."

No room to run
The pregame ceremony, which featured dozens of young women in ornate costumes performing a native awa odori dance, joined by a group of black-clad hip-hoppers, may have contributed to J.D. Drew being scratched at the last minute. Drew, who hit a three-run home run and a grand slam in weekend exhibitions against Japanese teams, reported tightness in his lower back.

"He tweaked his back during BP, his lower back," said manager Terry Francona. "He didn't say anything to anybody because I think he thought he was going to be fine. And then, when he started to run, because he couldn't run on the field because there was a parade, he was trying to get loose in the back and he was having a tough time.

"He didn't want to not play without going on the field. He kind of tried to sneak through the people out there and he couldn't get loose.

"We tried to wait long enough but it was right before the introductions, so we just inserted [Brandon] Moss straight up."

Going to the wall
Jacoby Ellsbury's leaping catch of Brown's drive to the center-field wall off Bryan Corey to start the eighth?

"That's the best play so far," said shortstop Julio Lugo, happily ignoring that "so far" constitutes one game.

"The ball was hit over my shoulder, almost directly over my head," Ellsbury said. "I got a good bead on it, and I jumped. I knew at some point I'd be hitting the wall, I wasn't sure when. I was just glad I was able to hold on."

Ellsbury said he felt the impact in his upper back, "and I got a good little whiplash at the end. It definitely knocked the wind out of me for a split second. For about an inning, it was like I was not breathing right. But I iced it up and I should be ready to go tomorrow."

Ellsbury, who had a single in four at-bats, could be replaced by Coco Crisp in center today if the Sox decide to proceed cautiously with him.

Lugo, who started the winning rally with an infield hit and was bunted to second by Dustin Pedroia before David Ortiz was issued a two-out intentional walk, was replaced at short in the bottom of the inning by Alex Cora.

"I've been having back pain, and I played a little longer than I expected," said Lugo, who had two singles in four trips. "We're going slow. [Francona] knows what he's doing."

Red flagged
Manny Ramírez was informed before the game that he would not be allowed to use his Diablo bats, which have red barrels. According to Major League Rule 1.10, "No colored bat may be used in a professional game unless approved by the Rules Committee."

Unfazed, Ramírez borrowed some Japanese-made SSK models and delivered two doubles in five at-bats, including the decisive blow high off the wall in the 10th inning.

"Maybe if I had used an American bat," Ramírez said with a big smile, "it would have gone.

"I couldn't use my bats because they were black and red. Thank God I got some Japanese wood I could use."

Ramírez was on a team of major leaguers that played exhibitions here against Japanese teams in 2004, but left after just three days, claiming problems with his hamstrings. This is a far more enjoyable experience, he said.

"The last time was different," he said. "It's different when you come with your own team. You can play around more with your own guys. It's been great."

Opening jitters
Jason Varitek on Daisuke Matsuzaka's uneven performance (he allowed just two hits, one a Mark Ellis home run, but walked five, hit a batter, and threw a wild pitch in five innings, leaving with a 2-0 deficit):

"It could have been the excitement. Once he settled in, he threw the ball well. He threw some really good changeups, good cutters, good curveballs.

"Maybe if he'd gotten through the first inning clean, it would have been a different story. But the good thing is he kept us in the game. I couldn't find one or two pitches to lock him in with. Early on, he didn't have a feel for anything."

First baseman Kevin Youkilis also thought the magnitude of the occasion may have had an effect.

"Maybe it was nerves," he said. "With all the attention, maybe he was overexcited.

"He's had a lot to deal with. He just had a baby boy, being away from that, coming back home here, not having his family, that all can be tough mentally."

Matsuzaka conceded that starting the opener in place of Josh Beckett (back spasms) may have contributed to nerves.

"I didn't feel that anxious, but I was probably overly cautious, because of my tendency to start slow," he said. "I think for my next start I would like to be more assertive in the early innings.

"I didn't approach the game any differently, but given the opportunity to start Opening Day, I did feel a little nervous, and that might have shown a little bit. But comparing it to my first start from last season, I felt that I approached the game in a similar way."

Matsuzaka, who threw 60 pitches in the first two innings, allowed only one runner in the last three, striking out three and permitting just one ball to leave the infield. What changed?

"I felt my calf tightening up a little bit during the end of the second inning," he said, "which turned out to be a good thing because that allowed me to relax and I was able to pitch without extra strain."

Roster riddles
The Sox optioned catcher Dusty Brown to Pawtucket, a procedural move that made him available today in the event that anything happened to Varitek or Kevin Cash in the opener. The Sox placed pitchers Tim Wakefield and Mike Timlin on the inactive list for this series, which means they cannot play in either game. Had the Sox made Brown inactive, he could not have played in the event of injury. Optioning him means the Sox could have recalled him in a pinch.

Daigo Fujiwara of the Globe staff contributed to this report

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