BOSTON -- You never know with Charlie Manuel. Sometimes he manages right by the book. Other times he manages straight from the gut. Sometimes he’s just a sucker for a good story.
This was one of those nights.
Cliff Lee was at his dart-throwing best Tuesday night. For eight innings, he put the baseball right where he wanted to, striking out eight Boston Red Sox and walking none. He ran off the mound after the bottom of the eighth with a one-run lead and 95 pitches on the hand-held clicker.
Everything pointed to Lee getting the chance to finish off his gem in the ninth, but Manuel went to Jonathan Papelbon and the fiery former Red Sox closer, in his first appearance back in Fenway Park, went through the heart of the Boston order to wrap up a 3-1 Phillies’ win (see Instant Replay).
Manuel was asked why he went to Papelbon when Lee was cruising with plenty of gas left in his tank.
“I kind of wanted to see it, if you want to know the truth,” the Phillies’ skipper said. “What the hell? Pap likes drama. I might as well like it with him.”
Papelbon spent six seasons as Boston’s closer. He saved 219 games and won a World Series with the club before signing a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies after the 2011 season. He retired Jonny Gomes, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz for the final three outs. Pedroia and Ortiz were longtime teammates of Papelbon. In fact, before Monday’s game, Papelbon envisioned a scenario in which he’d have to face Ortiz. Papelbon said he’d throw the ball right down the middle and get Ortiz to swing and miss. Ortiz ended up grounding out to end the game.
“I loved it,” Papelbon said of his night’s work. “I would say it was more fun than strange. It was like playing against your brother in the backyard. For me, those guys are some of my best friends in the world. At the same time, it was fun. They have a really good lineup over there, so I had to stay focused on the task at hand because I knew at any given moment the game could have been tied up.”
Papelbon received a nice ovation during a brief video-board tribute early in Monday’s game. When he jogged in from the bullpen for the ninth inning Tuesday night, he heard a lot of boos.
“That’s how they love you in this town,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed pitching in this city, off that mound. It really felt like old times, just in a different uniform.”
Paplebon is 10 for 10 in save chances this season. He has racked up 18 straight scoreless appearances after allowing two runs in his first game of the season.
“I couldn’t tell you my stats,” he said. “I just go, man. I don’t think a lot. They don’t pay me to think.”
Lee has a similar mindset: Don’t think a lot. Get the ball and throw it -- to good spots. He was staked to a 1-0 lead on Michael Young’s solo homer off Ryan Dempster in the first, gave back the run in the bottom of the inning, then allowed just two singles after the first inning while he waited for Erik Kratz (RBI hit in the seventh) to break the tie.
Lee improved to 6-2 with a 2.34 ERA. He is 5-1 with a 2.11 ERA in eight starts following a Phillies’ loss this season.
“Regardless of what happens yesterday, when it’s my day to pitch I want to go as deep as I can and put up as many zeroes as I can,” Lee said.
Lee was surprised when pitching coach Rich Dubee told him he was done after eight innings.
“Yeah, I wanted to finish,” he said. “But Pap has been throwing well, so it’s hard to argue with that, especially with him being back in Boston. That was a big win for us and I’m sure he wanted the opportunity. It’s hard to question it when you win.”
Compelling storyline notwithstanding, Manuel said his decision to go to Papelbon was completely baseball-related. In a close game, in the shadow of the Green Monster, he liked the idea of the right-handed Papelbon going after Gomes and Pedroia, both right-handed bats, to start the inning.
“Lee was fantastic,” Manuel said. “If he was pitching a shutout, it would have been tough. But I wanted Pap on those right-handed hitters so they’d hit the ball to right field.”
Manuel was going to Papelbon even before Domonic Brown turned a one-run lead into a two-run lead with a solo home run in the top of the ninth. If Papelbon had given up the lead, Manuel would have ripped apart by his critics. When you’re a manager, the only good decisions are the ones that the players make work. Papelbon made this one work. Good win. Good theater.
The Phillies ended their road trip at 4-4 and are 25-27. They have the Red Sox at home Wednesday and Thursday night.
“I feel like we’ve still got a long way to go, but things are starting to click,” Papelbon said. “Our pitching and hitting are starting to sync up a little bit. If we do that we can create damage in the National League. This division is still anyone’s by a long shot. If we keep grinding it out we have a good chance.”