The best part of Saturday's game for me was the final at-bat, Kevin Millar facing Jonathan Papelbon, who had so far been so fresh and perfect this season there was a coldness about it, a kind of impersonal, surgical precision.
Whenever Millar faces the Red Sox, at least so far, he has an expression on his face like he's seeing an old flame being squired about by another man. He seemed to be as much watching Papelbon as facing him, after every fouled pitch shaking his head, grimacing, visibly sighing, "phew." It was clear, though Millar held out, that he had surrendered the mental game to Papelbon from the first moment--one almost had a sense that he was spoiling so many pitches just for the chance to watch Jonathan throw another one.
Or that could just have been my projection, as my love for Jonathan has become almost instantaneously a slavish devotion. There aren't enough words to describe how in his spell I am already, watching his wide eyes and set face after he whirled to watch a long fly-out Saturday--I am totally powerless over his intensity.
Compounding my twitterpation over Papelbon is the way Schilling watches him, hanging over the dugout fence and hollering criticisms toward the umpire (today's umpire, Phil Cousins, had already sent Rodrigo Lopez back to the dugout screaming and spitting mf-bombs) when he feels his boy's being squeezed. I love the way Schilling has latched so quickly onto Papelbon, and seems ready to tear into anyone who threatens him, umpires included, like a grizzly bear with its cub. (In general, I am charmed by Schilling's patriarch status in the clubhouse with all these young pitchers, and made giddy by the little moments of Schilling cheering on his charges like he's their Dad.)
But I still can't turn my back on Foulke. Today he did me proud, perhaps not his old self, but certainly looking like a passable imitation. He was missing bats, spotting his fastball, and something of the atmosphere of his pitching was back--there was the sense, as pitchers swung and missed with looks of surprise, that he was able to be deceptive in that old way. All of a sudden the walking-the-tightrope feeling of last season was dulled a bit (although it would be totally unwise at this point to say it was gone completely). Afterwards there were back-slaps for Foulke all around in the dugout.
There are many who have said that the selection of Papelbon over Foulke in the last several save situations should end all debate over who should be closer. I disagree. I think it's far, far too early to make such a proclamation, and watching Foulke grin as if he couldn't help himself after today's eighth inning, I'm certainly not going to count him out.
However things shake out for the Sox in the long run, for this road trip, at least, things have come up roses. The pitching has been exquisite, and today's game was an encapsulation, from Wake's three back to back strikeouts today after he found himself with runners in scoring position with no outs in the fifth ("Something you'd expect from Schilling or Beckett," was Remy's comment) to Timlin holding steady in the seventh and aforementioned innings by the Two Headed Closer.
The bats are also not to be discounted, particularly on this day the lower part of the order, which played some surprising small-ball this afternoon and won another lovely, relatively close and honest contest.
The Red Sox are coming back to open at home having won five of six, looking sharp defensively, competent offensively and with an embarrassment of riches in the pitching department. The biggest bats remain relatively quiet (Manny made WebGems after a great catch Saturday but has yet to hit a home run); I, for one, can only dream of what will happen when everyone gets on a roll. And meanwhile, the Yankees are off to a 1-4 start.
Of course, there's always some depressing corollary to quote when talking about Yankees records; the last time they started 1-4 was 1998 - a season in which they won 114 games and the World Series. And who knows if Foulke's recovery will complete itself, or if Jonathan can stay sharp facing teams for the second or third time, or if Beckett can stay off the DL, etc. and so on.
So, as with our closer situation, it's not nearly time to count anybody out yet (although for the Orioles, I may make an exception, sorry to say).
But, so far, so good--and that's all you can hope for in April.