Bullpen deserves credit for Sox' first win

Bullpen deserves credit for Sox' first win
April 9, 2011, 12:00 am
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By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com

BOSTON It may have taken seven games, and it wasnt always pretty, but the Red Sox finally got their first win of the season Friday in their Fenway Park opener, beating the Yankees, 9-6.

While John Lackey (1-1) was credited with the win, the bullpen deserves most of the credit for it.

Lackey went five innings, giving up six runs. After that Alfredo Aceves, Bobby Jenks, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon combined to pitch four scoreless innings, giving up one hit and two walks with five strikeouts, facing two batters over the minimum.

It was hard, said manager Terry Francona. We didnt keep them off the board first five innings. Thats a hard way to win. Our bullpen came in and put up four zeroes. Thats tough to do.

Entering the game, the bullpen combined for an ERA of 8.04, allowing 14 runs with nine walks and 16 strikeouts in 15 23 innings over the previous six games. Even with the jettisoning of left-hander Dennys Reyes (16.20), who was designated for assignment before the game, the bullpens cumulative ERA was still 7.07. After going through last season with one of the worst bullpens in the American League only Baltimore and Kansas City had worse ERAs that was not the result the Sox expected after nearly completely revamping the bullpen, including the additions of Jenks and Daniel Wheeler.

But, in this game, the results were finallywhat they have been looking for.

Papelbon earned the save, throwing a perfect ninth, including striking out Brett Gardner (looking) and Derek Jeter (swinging) before getting Mark Teixeira to fly out.

Well, I think thats what they planned to do, Papelbon said. I think thats the reason why they brought Jenks here. I think as a bullpen unit down there we feel like if you can get the ball to us in the late innings of a game with a lead, we should be able to hold it.

Bard, who had been the only consistently reliable member of the bullpen last season, entered the game with a record of 0-2 and 16.88 ERA in three appearances this season. He pitched a perfect eighth inning to set up Papelbons save.

I felt good, he said. Ive felt good all my outings. They just havent gone that well.

Ive been working on getting some more downward plane on the ball. I was on the side of it my first couple, and just letting the ball be really flat, which makes it easy to see and easy to hit. They werent necessarily hitting the balls hard. But they were consistently getting the barrel to it. So I knew something wasnt right. Normally, if Im throwing my fastball right, its got downhill plane. Even when I miss down the middle theyre pounding balls into the ground, just mis-hits. So, good to see that again.

Jenks came into the game in the seventh inning and issued a lead-off walk to Mark Teixeira, then went to 2-0 on Alex Rodriguez. At that point, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia paid a visit to the mound.

Its just its his first game here, Saltalamacchia said. I can definitely attest to that. You get amped up a little bit and you start trying to overdo some things. He got back to where he needed to be.

I was out there, I think a little over-amped, new everything, new uniform, new home fans and all that, Jenks said. Once I slowed the game down and started pitching again -- I dont want to say it came easier -- but just knowing how to get out of those situations, it made it easier to pitch.

Once I got 2-0, Salty came out and just triggered one of my keys that I use as far as mechanically-wise, Jenks said. Once he did that and he started walking back, I took a second for myself and said, What are you doing? Youve done this thousands of times? And I just stopped worrying about the guy on first base and I just needed to execute a pitch, and I know how to do that. Throw the ball down the middle, get one and rom there you try to get back ahead on the next hitter.

Jenks struck out Rodriguez and retired the next two batters.

With Aceves in the sixth, the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings went exactly how the Red Sox had planned and hoped.

Its awesome, Bard said. Bobby got the heart of the lineup and worked around that lead-off walk, did everything we asked of them. And Pap, thats as good as Ive seen him in two years probably. He looked really good. Its a good thing.

And not a moment too soon.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen