Beckett marvels at Papelbon's 'explosion'

May, 20, 2011
BOSTON -- Josh Beckett was in the Red Sox clubhouse, watching on TV, when Jonathan Papelbon struck out Brennan Boesch and Miguel Cabrera with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, setting up Boston's game-winning rally in the bottom of the ninth of a 4-3 win over the Detroit Tigers, the team's sixth straight win.

I asked Beckett what he saw as he watched Papelbon perform.

"It's some of the most electric stuff you'll see,'' he said.

"Nobody throws a fastball like that, with the explosion at the end. His fingers are on top of the ball like I've probably never seen them. When you've got that type of stuff and you put your fingers on top of the ball, and he's got the fastball that explodes up and the split that explodes down, it's pretty tough to hit."

On Wednesday night, Papelbon struck out Alex Avila and Ryan Raburn with a runner on third to save a 1-0 win over the Tigers. He has faced six batters with the bases loaded this season, and struck them all out. In 18 appearances spanning 18 2/3 innings, Papelbon has struck out 25 batters while walking just three, one intentionally. He has eight saves and is well on his way to reasserting himself, in his free-agent year, back near the top of the game's elite closers.

The degree of difficulty was multiplied Thursday by the presence of Cabrera, one of the game's best hitters, and by the line drive that smacked Papelbon in the area behind his left knee by Avila at the start of the inning. Papelbon recovered to throw out Avila at first, threw a few warmup pitches, then elected to stay in the game.

He loaded the bases on singles by Brandon Inge and Austin Jackson and a walk to Scott Sizemore but reached back to punch out Boesch and Cabrera.

The last fastball to Cabrera registered at 97 miles an hour, with the Tigers slugger managing to foul tip it, but catcher Jason Varitek held onto the ball.

“Obviously there was no room for error for me again,'' Papelbon said. "Their lineup is very, very good. And once again I kind of backed myself up against the wall and had to get out of it. Tek made a great play, holding onto that ball against Cabrera.''

Jack McCluskey contributed to this report.

Gordon Edes

ESPN Staff Writer



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