Curves might not curve. Sliders might not slide. Change-ups might not change much of anything.
The Red Sox bullpen will be pitching on fumes in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, as must-win as a must-win gets. But that’s what fumes are for.
“Yeah, it hurts – it hurts to warm up, it hurts play long-toss, it hurts to come to the park,” veteran reliever Mike Timlin said. “But this is the end of the season, and this is why you play, to go to the playoffs. This is why you want to be here. You suck it up, and you go. That’s just how you do it.”
Tim Wakefield allowed back-to-back home runs in Tuesday's first inning en route to the shortest outing by a Red Sox pitcher in the playoffs – 2 2/3 innings – since the Yankees crushed Bronson Arroyo in Game 3 of the 2004 American League Championship Series.
The result was a 13-4 win for Tampa Bay that pushed Boston to the brink in the ALCS for the second year in a row and the third time in five seasons. Both times previously – down 3-0 to the Yankees in 2004 and down 3-1 to the Indians in 2007 – the Red Sox rallied to win the series.
If they’re going to do that again, though, they’re going to have to do it with a bullpen that’s been asked to do far too much already. One merciful off-day – the series pauses today and resumes Thursday – won’t be enough to negate the kind of workload Red Sox relievers have shouldered in the last week.
Justin Masterson has appeared in three games in this series and pitched four innings; he struck out four and looked generally effective in his 2 1/3 innings yesterday.
Manny Delcarmen couldn’t get anyone out in his second appearance of the series, walking three and surrendering five runs in 1/3 of an inning. He had a 3.27 ERA in a career-high 74 1/3 innings this season, but he looked totally out of his element against the Rays in Game 4.
Left-hander Javier Lopez gave up the go-ahead hit in Game 3 against the Angels, and he gave up a single to Carl Crawford on the only pitch Francona let him throw in Game 3 against the Rays. He meandered through 1 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 4 but couldn’t possibly be available for Game 5.
“You do the best you can with damage control,” Lopez said. “It didn’t work out. Some good pitches were made and they got some hits, but that’s what you try to do: Damage control. You try to eat up as many innings as you can because you don’t want everybody to be taxed going into just as important of a game on Thursday.”
Timlin, whose defeat in extra innings in Game 2 could easily have been the final pitch of his career, tossed two innings of mop-up relief and can’t possibly be a consideration any longer for any meaningful situation.
By the end, you had to wonder if Francona would consider pitching a position player; trouble is, David McCarty retired three years ago.
The only two pitchers spared from the messes in Game 3 and Game 4, in fact, were Papelbon and Hideki Okajima.
But both still have already pitched twice and racked up 2 2/3 innings of work in the series. That comes after both were used three times in four games against the Angels in the first round of the playoffs.
And it’s ominous that Daisuke Matsuzaka is next up for the Red Sox; he pitched beyond seven innings just four times this season.
He worked into the eighth inning in Game 1 against Tampa Bay on Friday, one of his best outings of the season. The last time he pitched against the Rays in the regular season, though, he needed 101 pitches to get through five innings. His style has been successful, but it’s not exactly conducive to bullpen preservation.
It would be a minor miracle if he went seven innings again, let alone tossed a complete game. And if he doesn’t, that same bullpen will have to go right back to work.
“We’ve got to do our job,” Timlin said. “We had to do our job a lot earlier than we want to (in Game 4), but we’ve got to do our job. That’s our mentality.”