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Red Sox Notebook

Papelbon sharp at this point in time

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 14, 2009

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The beginning of Jonathan Papelbon’s season brought too many base runners, too many games the Red Sox could have lost. There were certainly questions about his effectiveness. His WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) was far too high, and some wondered what had happened to the closer. Those concerns no longer appear to be valid.

Coming in with a two-run lead in the ninth inning of yesterday’s first game and getting the save, Papelbon continued to demonstrate that he’s at his best as the season winds down. Including his one inning yesterday, in which he allowed one infield single to Akinori Iwamura, Papelbon has a 0.73 ERA over his last 10 games, over 12 1/3 innings. In that time, Papelbon has allowed just one run, striking out 17, including three yesterday in earning his 36th save.

“I think finally, for me, I’m able to kind of decipher what’s going to work and what’s not at this point in time,’’ Papelbon said. “It’s coming down to that part of the season where it’s going to be key for me to be able to go out there day in, day out to repeat my delivery.’’

Papelbon said his splitter has been improving, something that might not please opponents down the stretch. “I’ve been throwing that pitch better,’’ he said. “My last outing I didn’t throw it as well as I could have. Today I had a good one. For me that’s obviously going to be a key pitch going down the stretch.’’

“As he’s gotten his delivery and timing in synch, we’re seeing a guy that’s been able to command a well-above-average fastball,’’ pitching coach John Farrell said.

And the Sox have continued to rely on him, including in stints greater than an inning. In his last 14 outings, Papelbon has gotten more than three outs five times. He had done that just twice before that run started on Aug. 7.

“I think the game has [determined whether] we’ve needed him to go two innings or one-plus,’’ Farrell said. “And any time that we’ve come out of those, we’ve always been very cautious to build in ample recovery time. I think evident by the way he threw the ball today, the two-inning outing down in Tampa, or the one-plus the other night hasn’t taken away from that.’’

Papelbon has been so good of late he was asked in between games if he thought he would be considered for the Cy Young Award. Though Papelbon scoffed at the question, wondering aloud just how many relievers had won, his pitching has been impressive. His ERA is 1.89, with those 36 saves in 39 opportunities.

“It probably matches some other stretches that he’s been on,’’ Farrell said. “Again, as long as he gets three outs in the ninth inning when we have a lead, that’s what matters most.’’

Martinez’s calf OK
Catcher Victor Martinez stood his ground and got up limping. As the Rays scored the tying run in the first game on a single by Jason Bartlett, Martinez braced himself for the impact of Gabe Gross. First baseman Casey Kotchman made a good throw to Martinez, who tagged Gross for the out that preserved the tie. “Casey made a good play,’’ Martinez said. “He got a good reaction, a good read, and he just gave me a good throw that I can handle it and make the play.’’ As second baseman Dustin Pedroia said, “That was a great play; [Kotchman] set his feet, made a great throw. I haven’t really looked if he was safe or out, but he called him out, so it worked out for us.’’ Martinez said the impact to his calf wasn’t serious, and he proved it by playing both games (he played first in the nightcap) and extending his hitting streak in each. Martinez now has a 15-game hitting streak, matching his longest of the season. During the streak, he is batting .358 with a home run, 5 doubles, 12 RBIs, and 6 runs scored. Martinez’s last longer streak, a 16-gamer, stretched from the end of the 2005 season to the beginning of the 2006 season.

Sun is cloudy
Asked by e-mail if there was any truth to a report in the Toronto Sun that said the Sox had offered six pitchers for Roy Halladay (Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, Daniel Bard, Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront, and Nick Hagadone), general manager Theo Epstein wrote back, “Nope.’’ . . . Hideki Okajima earned his sixth win of the year in the first game, the most by a lefty Sox reliever since Tom Burgmeier had seven in 1982 . . . The Sox bullpen has 25 wins this season, one more than last season . . . Rocco Baldelli played in his 500th game in the afternoon contest, though he left before the eighth for defensive replacement Brian Anderson . . . David Ortiz’s double in the first game was his first pinch hit since May 21, 2006. He had gone 0 for 8 in a pinch in that span . . . Manager Terry Francona reported that he slept at Fenway Park Saturday night, something he does a couple of times each season. “Got to tell you, though, I ran into [Sox assistant equipment manager Pookie Jackson] coming out of the shower,’’ Francona said. “That’s about as bad a nightmare as you’re going to see.’’

Short story
Jason Bay followed Pedroia’s opposite-field shot in Game 1 with one of his own in Game 2. But this one didn’t go nearly as far. Bay hit a lead-extending homer in the eighth inning of Game 2, a solo shot that slid past Gross and just beyond the right-field foul pole. It was about as short a homer as anyone could hit, a fact his teammates made sure to let him know. “It’s not a big part of my game, sneaking one down there,’’ said Bay, who added that he almost missed first base while watching the ball. “I guess you’ve got to know your ballpark. Why hit one 419 feet when you can hit one 290 feet? I got a ton of [grief]. Greenie [Nick Green] was just happy he didn’t have the shortest home run of the year, that walkoff homer he hit against Atlanta, so he was pumped that I now own the distinction.’’ . . . Bay began the game by receiving the first pitch from fellow Gonzaga alum John Stockton, a recent Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. “It was a freaking bullet,’’ Bay said. “He threw a seed. I just said don’t bounce it, OK, and lucky I was ready; it was an absolute missile.’’ . . . Pat Burrell struck out swinging after coming in as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning of Game 2, and was ejected by plate umpire Lance Barksdale for arguing the call . . . With the Sox not needing much from their bullpen all weekend, and certainly not needing the services of Paul Byrd, the Sox named Byrd to the open slot in the rotation on Wednesday. Daisuke Matsuzaka will open the Angels series tomorrow, followed by Byrd and Josh Beckett . . . The Sox have won their last four games against the Rays to finish the season series at 9-9 . . . The Sox have 10 shutouts this season after getting 16 in 2008 . . . The Sox moved to 50-21 at home, tied with the Yankees for the most home wins this season. “We’ve always been pretty good at home and there’s a reason,’’ Jason Varitek said. “It has to do with our support system, and it always has. [The fans are] able to create that energy in a positive way. When they get behind us, they make a difference. I’ve always said that, and I believe that.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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