The Red Sox beat the Rockies, 10-5 in Game 3 of the World Series, so whatever issues the 'pen experienced were all but forgotten soon after the last out. But for a group that has enjoyed such remarkable success this month, Saturday's performance was somewhat unsettling, at least until Jonathan Papelbon arrived to restore order.
Prior to the closer's entry in the eighth inning, the Sox had their issues. Daisuke Matsuzaka issued consecutive one-out walks in the sixth, prompting manager Terry Francona to summon Javier Lopez to finish the inning. That plan backfired when Brad Hawpe singled to left-center, scoring Todd Helton, and Yorvit Torrealba singled through the hole at short, bringing home Garrett Atkins.
Mike Timlin was somewhat effective but also somewhat lucky while finishing that frame. Ryan Spilborghs sent a towering fly ball toward center field, but it fell inches short of a home run as Jacoby Ellsbury caught it at the warning track. Jeff Baker, hitting for Jeremy Affeldt, sent a hard liner toward short, where Julio Lugo executed a well-timed leaped and made the catch for the last out.
"It was nice to get in a mode where guys are picking each other up," Lopez said. "I came in and tried to get the ground ball, and it goes for a base hit. Then [Timlin] comes on and get the two outs and gets out of that situation."
That luck didn't carry over to the seventh frame, however. Timlin yielded two singles, which put runners at the corners with no outs, and Francona quickly turned to one of his most reliable relievers -- Hideki Okajima.
The left-hander's string of 9 2/3 scoreless postseason frames quickly ended when Matt Holliday sent the first pitch over the center-field wall for a three-run homer. That brought the Rockies to within one run of tying the game.
"The one pitch to Holliday, it was a mistake," Okajima said. "But even though I gave up a three-run home run, we had a lead. That was the good part. It is important every time I go out there, just keep the concentration level high."
Todd Helton followed with a base hit, but Okajima struck out Atkins and Hawpe before coaxing a ground ball from Torrealba.
"He hasn't given up a whole lot of big hits like that," Timlin said. "But then he bows his neck and starts throwing really, really good pitches. It says a lot about the guy. He's a great kid.
"[The Rockies] have a good offense. You have to make good pitches all the time. The hits we gave up, obviously, we missed our spots. That's going to happen."
"Oki came in, threw a first-pitch changeup, and Holliday hit it a long way," Francona said. "He's done that to a lot of people this year. Timlin got a couple pitches up."
Still, the Red Sox were safe, mainly because of their offense. Colorado's one-run deficit turned to four in the next frame, when Boston posted three runs behind two doubles -- one from Ellsbury that drove in one run and one from Dustin Pedroia that scored two.
"After that, we had great offensive support," Okajima said. "We got three more after that, so it was good."
The bullpen's heavy workload this month may be starting to show, but the relievers may have to push themselves to the limits only one more time this year. They need just one more win to capture their second World Series title in four seasons.
Until it's official, however, the Red Sox are assuming nothing.
"They've scored a lot of runs in their previous series, and they're capable of scoring a lot of runs," Timlin said of the Rockies' offense. "We just have to minimize the damage when we can. That's how you win ballgames. If you win innings, the more innings you win, you'll come up on the high end."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less