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Bullpen delivers in clutch

Four relievers help preserve shutout

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / May 8, 2011

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Given the trials and tribulations of the first week of this month, no one would have blamed the Red Sox’ besieged relievers if they threw up their hands and sent out a mayday distress signal.

The bullpen seemed in a state of flux with Bobby Jenks (biceps tendinitis) and Dan Wheeler (left calf) being placed on the 15-day disabled list following a 13-inning, rain-delayed game Wednesday night that required all hands — including starter Daisuke Matsuzaka — to be on deck.

But the bullpen overcame all that yesterday and helped Clay Buchholz preserve a 4-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins before a Fenway Park crowd of 37,234.

In all, five Sox pitchers combined for three hits and 10 strikeouts to blank the Twins. The last time five Sox pitchers combined for a shutout was when Jon Lester, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez, and Jonathan Papelbon did it in a 4-0 win at Baltimore June 26, 2009.

Yesterday, Buchholz (3-3, 4.19 ERA) led the way by pitching five innings of two-hit ball, allowing one walk while ringing up six strikeouts, despite pitching the last three innings after a rain delay of 2 hours 7 minutes

“Rain delays stink for a bullpen,’’ said Daniel Bard, who dialed up some 98-mile-per-hour pitches in a tidy 1-2-3 inning in the eighth.

When play resumed at 4 p.m., Buchholz, who stayed warm during the delay by playing catch in the batting cage below the stands with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, insisted on taking the ball again.

“That was huge,’’ Bard said. “He could’ve said, ‘I don’t want to risk it,’ or ‘It’s too long.’

“If he didn’t want to take the ball, he didn’t have to, but he did. He did what he had to do to stay loose during the delay, so we appreciate that, too.’’

Buchholz saved the bullpen and cleared the way for manager Terry Francona to line up a four-man relay of relievers: Rich Hill in the sixth, Matt Albers in the seventh, Bard, and Papelbon in the ninth.

“They really did good,’’ Francona said of the relievers.

“Rich Hill has a walk and a hit batsman and comes back and gets a big double play. So we didn’t have to get to Albers before we wanted to. Everybody did their job.’’

Hill, who was called up from Triple A Pawtucket Thursday along with Scott Atchison, faced the top of Minnesota’s order. He walked leadoff hitter Denard Span and hit Trevor Plouffe, putting the tying runs aboard. But Hill got out of the inning by inducing Justin Mourneau to hit into a rare 3-6-1 double play and by striking out Jason Kubel.

“I think the biggest thing is getting the ‘W’ and, for myself, is going out there and pitching with conviction,’’ said Hill, who has thrown 6 1/3 scoreless innings over eight games with the Sox dating to Sept. 14.

“I want to keep that going, you know. That’s really the biggest thing.’’

Hill then handed it to Albers, who struck out Rene Tosoni with a four-seam fastball that topped out at 95 m.p.h. and induced Rene Rivera to hit into a force out.

Bard and Papelbon got the last six outs in dominating 1-2-3 fashion.

Papelbon fanned the last two batters he faced in a perfect ninth, but has not recorded a save in 15 days, matching the longest such stretch of his career.

“Obviously, no one wants to give it up, but I don’t think the shutout is the main goal here,’’ Albers said. “The main goal is to get the win and keep them down.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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