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Papelbon's meltdown was felt mile-high

Steve Henson
Yahoo Sports

DENVER – The other league was going at it, so players from the Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies weren't so much captivated by the game on the clubhouse televisions as glancing at it. But as the ninth inning unfolded, the distinct whiff of impending disaster emanated off of Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon(notes), and nobody could look away.

"It's a cruel game," Rockies veteran first baseman Todd Helton(notes) said as he walked to the batting cage a short time later.

Papelbon hadn't allowed a run in 26 previous postseason innings, spread over 17 appearances. The team he faced, the Los Angeles Angels, had a batting average of .129 against him. Yet he blew the save, right there at Fenway Park, and the Angels completed a sweep.

The unexpected. The unforeseen. The postseason.

"Your team fights to put you in that situation," Papelbon said. "You let them down and there's a lot of weight on your shoulders because your team expects you to preserve that win. And when you don't, it's definitely not a good feeling."

Most Red Sox fans were speechless with shock, although eventually a few remembered their priorities and draped themselves over the railing of the Angels' clubhouse to chant, "Beat the Yankees."

The bulk of the Boston faithful seemed to forget their team was a wild-card entry. The Red Sox were favored only because the Angels had never beaten them in a playoff series. This wasn't an upset, and problems extended beyond Papelbon. The Angels chipped away at Boston's starters and extended leads against the bullpen. Middle of the order hitters David Ortiz(notes) and Kevin Youkilis(notes) were a combined 2-for-24. The Red Sox hit only one home run.

Still, the abruptness of blowing a ninth-inning lead in an elimination game was a difficult pill.

"The season doesn't wind down," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "It just comes to a crashing halt. You go into the top of the inning excited because you think you're going to keep playing. Half an inning later, you're going home."

A couple thousand miles away, the only teams still battling in a division series created their own drama in sub-30-degree temperatures. A botched call – Chase Utley's(notes) infield single in the ninth inning that hit off his leg and should have been a foul ball – led to the winning run.

Game 4 is Monday at 6:07 p.m. ET, and the pitching matchup is a repeat of Game 1: Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee(notes) vs. Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez(notes).


Lee has never pitched in Denver, and the Coors Field altitude hasn't made him lightheaded. No sir.

"I'm not going to go out there and not use my breaking ball because somebody said it doesn't break as much here," Lee said. "I'm still going to pitch the same way I always do."

Lee took a deep breath of thin air. On second thought …

"But, I don't know, we'll see," he said. "I'll go out there and pitch like I normally pitch. If I feel like a certain pitch is not effective, not doing what I want it to do, then maybe I'll use it less, I don't know. But going into it, I'm going to try to pitch my game."

Lee shut down the Rockies in Game 1, tossing a complete game in the Phillies' 5-1 victory. He'll face the same lineup Monday. Any change in approach will be a direct result of pitching at 5,000 feet.

By the end of the interview, he'd drawn a conclusion: Be himself, then adjust.

"I think everyone hears the breaking balls don't break as much," he said. "And the ball travels farther, all that kind of stuff. But I'm not going to really buy into it. So I'm going to go out there and pitch my game and, like I said, if I see that maybe my breaking ball is not breaking as much or whatever, I'll make the adjustment then."


For the second time in three months, the Los Angeles Dodgers believe they have found a staff ace. The first one, All-Star right-hander Chad Billingsley(notes), has faded from favor. The new one is left-hander Clayton Kershaw(notes), who pitched well in Game 2 against the Cardinals.

The first clue manager Joe Torre considers Kershaw his best pitcher? He would have given the 21-year-old the ball in a Game 5. That's not to say Kershaw will start Game 1 of the NLCS. That honor likely will again go to veteran lefty Randy Wolf(notes). Kershaw has been much more effective pitching at home, and keeping him in the No. 2 slot would ensure that a second start, if necessary, would be at Dodger Stadium.

Overall, the Dodgers' starting pitching looks a lot more formidable than it did a week ago. Vicente Padilla's(notes) seven scoreless innings against the Cardinals in Game 3 guarantees him a start in the NLCS. And the fourth spot could go to Hiroki Kuroda(notes), who sat out the division series because of a bulging disk in his neck. He will throw a bullpen session Monday. Other choices are Billingsley and Jon Garland(notes), a late-season acquisition who pitched well at times and has World Series experience.