On June 12 at Fenway Park, Daisuke Matsuzaka was warming up in the bullpen for a start against the Philadelphia Phillies, only to suffer a strained forearm and get placed on the disabled list in immediate fashion. In a pinch, Scott Atchison was given an emergency start and performed admirably to help the Red Sox coast to a 10-2 win.
That game will always be remembered as the one in which Daniel Nava hit a grand slam on the very first pitch he saw in the major leagues. But Atchison's ability to pick up the slack for Matsuzaka was notable.
Such was the case Thursday in Baltimore, where Atchison was the key player in a clutch bullpen performance that gave Boston a little bit of life heading into a do-or-die homestand.
"You want to pitch well enough that they can put you in those situations," said Atchison, 34. "Those are the situations you want to pitch in. You want to pitch when the game's on the line and be in there to show them that you can do it."
Not only did Atchison want to pitch in a big spot, he almost had to Thursday night.
The Sox entered the contest without the services of Daniel Bard. He threw 28 pitches in a two-inning effort the night before. Also unavailable was lefty Felix Doubront, still sidelined with a pectoral muscle strain. That robs the club of two of its key components in the bridge to Jonathan Papelbon.
Early on, it didn't seem to be an issue. Matsuzaka took a 5-0 lead and a two-hitter into the sixth inning, having thrown just 70 pitches after coming off nearly two weeks of rest due to a sore back.
Any hopes of avoiding using the bullpen early were shattered in the sixth as Matsuzaka hit the wall. Two singles, two doubles and an RBI groundout pulled Baltimore within a run. The tying run was on second base with two outs when Terry Francona was forced to pull his suddenly struggling right-hander and turn to Atchison, who had thrown just one inning since Aug. 25.
The journeyman reliever, plucked by the Red Sox from the scrap heap this offseason after two years pitching in Japan, first froze Nolan Reimold on a nasty slider to end the sixth and then did the job normally held for the likes of both Bard and Doubront.
Atchison set down all three batters he faced in the seventh and then got the first two outs in the eighth before Hideki Okajima retired Luke Scott to get the ball to Papelbon in the ninth. The Boston closer picked up his 35th save by stranding a pair in scoring position, and the pen had completed 3 1/3 scoreless innings to help Boston enter a six-game homestand 6 1/2 games out in the wild-card race.
It not only saved the win for Matsuzaka, but also spared Francona from having to worry about how to piece it all together.
"With Bard not being available, the way Atch pitched was huge," the skipper said. "Okie comes in and gets out a very dangerous hitter, but with Bard being down, if Atch struggles then we've got to get probably multiple guys up. He did a great job."
Atchison needed just 22 pitches to get the six outs, striking out three in the process. He is 1-1 with four holds and a 2.53 ERA in his last 16 appearances.
For a guy that can eat innings with the best of them, even on short notice, Atchison will not need much time to recover from this effort. For a team that has needed help in the bullpen all season, his presence has been a godsend.
Just ask Daisuke Matsuzaka.
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