Lead gone in instant
Papelbon taken deep by Santos in the ninth
The first pitch from Jonathan Papelbon to Omir Santos with two outs in the ninth inning last night rocketed off the bat to left field, where it kicked off the shelf above the Green Monster. The ball fell back into the field of play, where Jason Bay relayed it to the infield in an effort to keep Gary Sheffield from scoring. And though the umpires signaled that the ball had not left the park, it was clear on replay that Santos had recorded his second home run of the season.
Bay knew his efforts were likely futile. He looked up and saw the fans patting the wall above the red line, which signifies the border between a home run and not. "I don't think they're going to miss that one," he said.
So, the umpires convened near third base. They then walked toward the Red Sox dugout, behind which there is a room where video replays are checked. And when home plate umpire Joe West reappeared, he signaled home run. The Mets had taken the lead, erasing a brilliant performance from Josh Beckett.
After 11 saves in 11 chances this season (and 16 for 16 since September), and a 0.95 ERA, Papelbon was tagged with the 3-2 loss. He had walked Sheffield to open the inning, then blew away David Wright and Jeremy Reed, both on 96-mile-per-hour fastballs, before the pitch to Santos.
"It's not shocking because the simple fact is it's an overthrown fastball right down the middle," Papelbon said. "Just wasn't a well-executed pitch. In those situations, in games where hitters have had plenty of [at-bats] throughout the night, you come in and you mislocate and overthrow and stuff like that, you're going to pay for it. Tonight was a game of inches, and the inches didn't go my way."
Asked if he were a proponent of instant replay in baseball, Papelbon said, "No. Not a fan of it. I don't understand why can't he just make the call."
"I'm going to shoulder this one," he added. "This is on my shoulders. It's my job to go out there and preserve the win and I didn't. It's on me. Tonight's on me. I just want to be back out there and get a chance tomorrow and pick my guys up there tomorrow. Let them know that I'm still here kicking."
The Sox, who hadn't had a hit in three innings, weren't able to answer in the ninth against J.J. Putz, who was the beneficiary of some outstanding defense. Three balls, from Bay, J.D. Drew, and Mike Lowell, were smoked, yet yielded a fielder's choice, a line out, and a ground out.
"It was a tough game to lose," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "We played a good game. We talk so much about maybe trying to spread it out, or giving yourself a cushion, so if you make a mistake it doesn't cost you a game. [Papelbon] mislocated it and paid for it."
Though everyone surveyed in the Sox' clubhouse believed it was a home run, and West called it "cut and dried" on replay, the swing of momentum was immense. One second, there were two outs in the ninth as Papelbon attempted to protect a one-run lead courtesy of Beckett's best outing since the opener. The next, the Sox were on their way to a loss.
Beckett went eight innings, throwing 117 pitches and holding the Mets to just one unearned run on five hits. He rebounded from a first inning in which his throwing error on a pickoff attempt led to a run. From the second through the eighth, Beckett allowed just four base runners, two each in the fifth and seventh.
This was more like the Beckett of 2007, not the Beckett of most of this season or the Beckett of 2008. With two extra days of rest since his last start, Beckett performed well on a night when the Sox needed it, and was matched by the Mets' Mike Pelfrey from the first inning on.
"He was very persistent in executing his pitches," Francona said of Beckett. "I thought he made a lot of pitches, especially the breaking balls that were if not on, just off, and he stayed with what he wanted to do. Threw some changeups late. Got into the one bind, and really beared down."
In the end, though, it didn't matter. As Papelbon watched that fastball slam against the shelf above the Green Monster, he suspected his ace's win was gone. His save was gone. His save streak was gone. He was mad at himself. For that fastball down the middle of the plate, but more for the walk that began the inning.
"I thought it was a home run, I did," Papelbon said. "I saw it go over the line and I thought I was going to get away with one for a little bit there. Once I saw Joe West walking toward our dugout, I knew that either a) they were going to go for a replay, or b) they were going to go tell [Francona] that it was going to be a home run. So, I knew it wasn't good from there."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.