Rockies have the last blast
DENVER — Twenty minutes had passed since the final pitch left Jonathan Papelbon’s hand and sailed out, way out, of Coors Field. And yet Papelbon sat at his locker in full uniform, hands clasped, head down, staring at nothing. His teammates showered, dressed, ate, and still Papelbon sat there, barely moving for long stretches, in the near silence that surrounded him.
It was 10 p.m. local time before he finally raised his head, stood, and started to undress slowly. He walked off toward the trainer’s room.
It had happened on a fastball, and then again on a splitter. On the second pitch to Ian Stewart, the Rockies third baseman had blasted a tying home run. And then, after a single and a sacrifice bunt, old foe Jason Giambi had taken the second pitch he saw out for a winning homer. The two home runs, the fifth and sixth allowed by Papelbon this season, left the Red Sox with a deflating 8-6 loss last night.
“It’s pretty tough, man,’’ Papelbon said. “Just ’cause of the simple fact that I’ve been throwing the ball well. Tonight I go out there and throw flat pitches. It’s just unacceptable.’’
Asked which homer bothered him more, Papelbon said, “The one that tied it.’’
As for the pitch to Giambi, Papelbon said, “Just threw a flat, hanging split. Usually that pitch is deposited, like it was.’’
The six homers already represent the highest number of Papelbon’s career. The closer has no explanation.
“To be totally honest, it’s something that I try not to focus on,’’ he said. “Try to go day to day and focus on the positive.’’
There was little positive for Papelbon last night.
“There was a lot happening,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “When it’s all said and done, you look up and we’ve got Pap out there in the ninth with a lead, and you’re looking at how the inning’s going to unfold.
“He tried to elevate and he didn’t get it up enough, and wow. If you like baseball, it’s a pretty swing. From where we’re sitting, it didn’t look that pretty. Then [Clint] Barmes hits a real good pitch that finds some outfield grass, and we’ve seen Giambi do that before.’’
Added Jason Varitek, “Papelbon’s so reliable and so good for us. Once in a while, that happens.’’
It was a game in which the Sox had battled back to take the lead on the best arm in baseball, that of Ubaldo Jimenez, scoring six runs off the righthander and doubling the largest number of runs he’d given up this season. They had overcome him with more hits at key moments from contributors unthinkable in February, with Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald doing much of the damage.
“You’ve got the best pitcher in the game pitching, and first couple innings he looked unhittable,’’ Francona said. “He started getting the ball up a little bit, we scored a couple. Then some real good things happened offensively — between Nava and McDonald, and shoot, even [John] Lackey. We did some real good things.
“The outcome of the game was obviously not what we were hoping for. But there was so much good that happened.’’
Jimenez, of both a no-hitter and one of the best ever openings to a season, could only watch as the pitch flew over the heads of his outfielders and into the left-center-field seats. In the ballpark not far from Cherry Creek High School, where McDonald starred in baseball and football, the unexpected Sox star had picked up another stunning hit.
McDonald’s two-run homer on a 96-mile-per-hour fastball from Jimenez tied the score at 5-5 in the sixth.
“It was good to be able to do something like that, especially coming home,’’ McDonald said. “Thirteen years in the minor leagues, to be able to come home and hit a homer like that felt great.’’
Not that the Sox were done. Lackey, allowed to hit despite having given up five runs of his own, doubled to center for his second hit of the evening. He was driven home by a Marco Scutaro single, giving the Sox a 6-5 lead, and ending the night for Jimenez. The early favorite for the National League Cy Young Award had allowed just 13 runs all season, in 14 starts. He allowed six last night to the Sox.
Three of those runs were driven home by Nava, who smashed doubles to right-center in the fourth (two runs) and sixth (one run), as the Sox worked their way back after being down, 4-0. McDonald and Nava, in the game out of necessity, battered the best the NL has to offer, sending his ERA from 1.15 to 1.60.
In the later innings, Lackey finally began to look as good on the mound as he did at the plate. After the Rockies scored two in the second (two-run homer by Miguel Olivo), two in the third (three straight singles), and one in the fourth (Jimenez RBI single), the Sox starter set down 10 consecutive batters before exiting for Daniel Bard. Perhaps that single by Jimenez woke up Lackey.
“As the game went on, he started really pitching well,’’ Francona said. “There was a lot of hits early, and he was better at the end, much better. You’re going to look up in the seventh inning and have a chance to win. It always happens.’’
It happened again last night, with the Sox three outs from winning. Then Papelbon stepped to the mound, spending only minutes, minutes that caused him to sit for far longer afterward, despondently staring at nothing.
Asked what had gone through his mind as he sat at his locker, Papelbon said, “Nothing really. Just trying to think about what happened out there.’’