Papelbon on point in key spot
Rookie right-hander tosses 2 2/3 shutout innings in win
BOSTON -- David Ortiz knows heroics. So when he talks about the efforts of a 24-year-old rookie right-hander thrown into the frying pan that is the American League East race, people listen.
And those listening to Ortiz on Thursday heard him draw an eye-popping comparison between Jonathan Papelbon and another hard-throwing former Red Sox hurler.
"We have the future Roger Clemens in the house," Ortiz said of Thursday night's winning pitcher. "That kid, man, I'll tell you; this guy is something else. Somebody said on the TV when I was [swinging the bat], this guy looks like he's been pitching 20 years. Let me tell you, the attitude that he has when he is out there and the concentration ... I tell you, he's going to be the future Roger Clemens of this ballclub. I'm telling you that right now."
The 35,345 in attendance at Fenway Park for the 5-4 Red Sox win over the Blue Jays certainly wouldn't argue, and neither would most of the Toronto batters who faced him in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
Papelbon, who keeps a conditioning motto in his locker from Clemens, is using his strong arm and well-conditioned body to grind through the final week of the regular season.
"It's more fun than I could ever imagine," Papelbon said. "It's a chance of a lifetime I'm getting, and I'm just trying to make the most of it."
With one out in the seventh and Boston trailing 4-3, Sox skipper Terry Francona replaced Mike Myers with Papelbon.
"I know with the lineup that we have and being at home going late in the ballgame, we had a chance the whole time," said Papelbon. "I kept that in the back of my mind and knew that if I just kept the ballgame there, everything was going to be all right."
Added Francona: "His stuff was so good tonight. It's not just going to be stuff in this situation. He is so beyond his years. Now that he is starting to get comfortable, we are starting to see some of his personality. We always knew about his ability to compete. We are starting to see some emotion."
Papelbon pumped his fist and shouted encouragement to Bill Mueller when the Sox third baseman fielded a tough short-hop grounder and threw out Corey Koskie for the second out in the ninth.
When Ortiz's third hit of the night found its way into left and scored Johnny Damon from second, it made a winner of Papelbon for the third time in four big league decisions. He allowed just two hits in 2 2/3 innings while keeping Toronto from adding on any runs.
"I felt very confident," Papelbon said. "I knew my [bullpen] session went well before being called upon. I just took it from there -- keep it simple and not do too much. I knew every pitch, every out, everything that was going on at that point of the game was a big thing and everything was going to matter."
"He realizes how big it is," Sox first baseman Kevin Millar said. "You're looking at a guy that's got guts. You're looking at a guy that has a plan and doesn't fear any situation. He's got that bulldog mentality, and I wasn't around Roger, but he's built big and he's tough, and I'm excited he's on our club."
For Francona, there was one word that best summed up the contribution of Papelbon on Thursday.
"I used the word extraordinary about three times," Francona said. "That's what it was."
Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.