Epstein said that he would use two imports from Pawtucket — lefty Felix Doubront and righty Michael Bowden — to help out in the interim and possibly make a waiver-wire deal later in August if the opportunity presented itself.
Perhaps all that chatter got to the guys that were already in place. The Boston bullpen, consisting largely of the same players it had when Epstein looked for improvements, has very quietly shut down opponents during a dominant stretch that began just around the deadline.
The effort of Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon in a nail-biter in New York on Monday was the highlight. Bard left the bases loaded with back-to-back strikeouts in the seventh and Papelbon had a four-out save, leaving the tying run at second base to end it.
Yet, Tuesday's 7-5 win in Toronto should not go unnoticed among those who once railed against a collection of arms that struggled at times through the first four months of the season. While Daisuke Matsuzaka labored through 5 2/3 innings and the defense had a pair of miscues, Doubront, Manny Delcarmen and Papelbon — currently on a remarkable run of his own — kept the Blue Jays at bay until the bats gave Boston the lead.
"[Tuesday night] was kind of a microcosm of our season. We made some mistakes but we kept playing," manager Terry Francona said. "There were some ways to lose that game tonight, but we needed to win."
Francona can thank the bullpen for that.
On the day Epstein admitted to a few missed opportunities at the trade deadline, the Red Sox rallied from a 4-0 deficit to beat Detroit at Fenway Park. Three relievers combined on three shutout innings to allow Boston's late rally to hold up. David Ortiz's game-winning, three-run double was what everyone will remember, but quality bullpen work made it possible.
Including and since that dramatic afternoon, Red Sox relievers are 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA, allowing the team to go 7-4 despite getting only a handful of quality starts and continuing to struggle to get runs. It has been the one unit that continues to pick up its teammates.
Bard and Papelbon offered up a great example of that Monday. It was the less-heralded Doubront, Delcarmen and, again, Papelbon on Tuesday.
Matsuzaka yielded to Doubront with two on and two outs and a 5-4 lead in the sixth. Doubront did his job by getting Fred Lewis to ground to shortstop, but the throw to second for the force out was late. It left Doubront to deal with Travis Snider — who had already hit a three-run homer — with the bases loaded.
Three pitches later, the soft-spoken Doubront was pumping his fist and Snider was sauntering back to the dugout a strikeout victim.
"That was a huge part of the game, so for Doubront not only to have the stuff but the poise to get through that is tremendous," Francona said.
Doubront did give up a game-tying home run in the seventh but the guy who hit it, Jose Bautista, has hit 35 of those — the most in the majors. The Jays would never threaten again and Mike Lowell's solo shot in the eighth made a winner of Doubront, only after Delcarmen and Papelbon closed the door.
Delcarmen, taking over for Bard the day after the regular setup man pitched a season-high 29 pitches, has now thrown five scoreless innings since July 24 and Papelbon continued to render his struggles in May and June a distant memory.
Since back-to-back poor outings in Colorado back in June, Papelbon has gone 1-0 with 13 saves and a 0.51 ERA. It is a stretch that reminds his teammates of the uber-dominant Papelbon of a few years ago.
"His split right now is the way that it was when he first started closing," Delcarmen said of Papelbon. "He started throwing his slider a little bit and kind of lost feel for his split, but it's back to where it was before. He's throwing it to righties and lefties, which is awesome, and I'm just happy for him."
When Matsuzaka began to struggle in the third inning Tuesday, the Boston bullpen was busy much earlier than the team would've liked. At least Francona hasn't had to hesitate about making that call.
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