Let me start by confessing I did not sit and watch this game with pious discipline. I was back and forth, puttering on the computer, especially after the rain delay, kind of half paying attention as the Sox appeared to be enjoying their usual hegemony over the Orioles.
In fact, so blase were the early innings of this game that a Twitterer I follow made a comment that "Wins against the Orioles should only count as half a win in the standings."
I puttered. I wandered. I got distracted watching back episodes of Top Chef I downloaded recently. I checked back in. 10-5.
Repeat process. 10-6.
When it was 10-7, I sat up and watched. The bases were loaded, Hideki Okajima was on the mound, and there were no outs. Takashi Saito relieved Okajima. 10-8. 10-9.
I felt like Vizzini in The Princess Bride: "Incon-THEEVABLE!" Not that the O's would come back, mind you, but that after leading by eight runs after six and a third innings, the Red Sox were now having to bring on Jonathan Papelbon to face down them down. A comeback had not yet crossed my mind.
Certainly it was not the plan to trot out Papelbon after using him last night, or even twice in this series. But at first, things looked promising as he blew away Felix Pie with 94 mph "with some hump on it," to quote Eckersley. I continued cursing about why Papelbon was out there in the first place.
And then Markakis, sitting fastball, found a juicy one. The sound off the bat said "hit." It fell in for two runs. Blown save. O's on top, 11-10.
God knows I love Jonathan Papelbon. I call him "The Precious", and I do it half-seriously, for Pete's sake. And I know what happened here is far from solely his fault. But this game brought the dark thoughts I'd been having about him earlier this season back to the forefront of my mind. Nights like this, I've begun to wonder just how many bullets he has left.
I was as tickled as the next red-blooded Red Sox fan when he tied Bob Stanley's team save record last night (and chuckled at the contrast between the two--Stanley, the grumpy middle-aged guy I watched tear apart beach balls with a rake at the ballpark as a child, and Papelbon the cocky young gunslinger). But it was a Jason Bay catch that really saved last night's game, and the ball before Bay's snare had made that same ominous sound off the bat.
Hitters are catching up to that fastball, either because it is mislocated, or because it lacks the kind of movement it once had, or because it is just slightly slower than it used to be, or some combination of the three. It's safe to say Papelbon has not been right this season, and there have been more disconcerting moments like this than I care to remember.
Young gunslingers don't last. They turn into something other than a one-trick pony, or they trade away.
Papelbon's been just so gorgeous, so gifted, with his best trick - that hopping, riding, absolutely electric fastball. And maybe I'm giving this one freakish game too much weight. But I find myself thinking more and more these days about how it can't go on forever.