Had that actually just happened? Had Papelbon, who entered Sunday’s Game 3 of the Division Series riding a 26-inning postseason scoreless streak, really just cost the Red Sox their season? Indeed, he had, and in stunning fashion, allowing three runs to the Angels in the top of the ninth at Fenway Park, giving Los Angeles a 7-6 victory and a series sweep.
He had, for the first time in four postseasons, come undone at the worst possible time.
“A lot of this is on me,” Papelbon said. “My team fights to put me in that situation and you do it all season long and you’ve done it time and time again in the postseason. But I wasn’t able to come out ahead this time. These types of moments stick with you more than when you preserve those wins, because they tend to sink a little bit deeper.
“I think things happened quick, more than anything,” he continued. “I wasn’t able to stop the bleeding. Your team fights to put you in that situation and you let them down. There’s a lot of weight on your shoulders, because your team expects you to pull through and preserve that win for you. And when you don’t, it’s definitely not a good feeling.”
The Red Sox had finally done all the right things on offense in Game 3, scoring five early runs to take a 5-1 lead. Then after Papelbon entered with two outs in the eighth and allowed a two-run single to make it 5-4, they scored a critical insurance run in the bottom half.
But with no one on base and one strike from forcing a Game 4, Papelbon saw it all get away. It is something he plans on replaying in his mind all winter long.
“I don’t take anything home with me or take anything into the offseason with me,” Papelbon said. “Although when you do go into the offseason, and it ends like it did today, you definitely, definitely remember those situations when you’re in the weight room in the offseason, when you’re getting ready to come back, preparing for the [next] season.
“Who knows, I may be replaying this on my TV in the weight room this offseason, giving me a little motivation for next season. This is something I’ll take on my shoulders this offseason and [that will] definitely make me work harder for next year.”
Papelbon had lived on the razor’s edge most of 2009. While he racked up 38 saves, the second-highest total of his career, and only blew three chances, he often put himself in precarious positions. His walk/hits per 9-innings ratio was 1.15, easily the highest of his four seasons as the full-time closer. In 2009, Papelbon issued 24 walks, one more than the previous two seasons combined.
So maybe it was a surprise, maybe it wasn’t that Papelbon could not close the door in the ninth inning on Sunday. He got the first two outs with little difficulty, then got ahead of Erick Aybar 0-and-2. But Aybar singled on the next pitch. Then Papelbon walked Chone Figgins, putting the tying run on base.
Papelbon had a chance to end it without having to throw a pitch to Bobby Abreu, as Alex Gonzalez had a dancing Aybar picked off second base. But even though Papelbon was looking right at his shortstop the entire sequence, he never threw him the ball, holding his position so long that Abreu eventually stepped out.
“I was just letting him dance and do his thing,” Papelbon said. “I had two outs. I wasn’t really worried about it. I wasn’t going to let that affect my game and what I was trying to do.”
But instead of getting an out at second or at the plate, Papelbon allowed a double off the wall to Abreu, scoring Aybar to make it 6-5. Then, after walking Torii Hunter intentionally, Vladimir Guerrero singled to center, and the Angels had the lead for good.
Manager Terry Francona then did something he rarely does, as did the shocked crowd. Francona pulled Papelbon from the game, and the crowd booed him off the field.
“Well, the way it started was good,” Francona said. “Again, it was 0-and-2 [to Aybar]. He left a pitch out over the plate. And we don’t take anything for granted, but we were in a good situation. And that’s the way they’ve played all year, also. They don’t stop playing. You give them a chance to extend innings, and they extended it one too many for us.”
Check out the full postgame interview with Papelbon below: