Papelbon may be 2 games away from title |

Papelbon may be 2 games away from title

Howard Ulman
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

BOSTON ” Shine those dancing shoes, Pap. You may need them while spraying champagne on a field named for a beer company.

A far better closer than choreographer, Jonathan Papelbon did an impromptu Irish step dance on the Fenway Park diamond to celebrate two Red Sox accomplishments ” clinching the AL East and winning the AL championship series.

His next stop: Coors Field.

That’s where Boston will take its 2-0 lead in the World Series, with Game 3 set for Saturday night.

“We’re going to party” if the Red Sox win their second Series in four years, Papelbon said after a 2-1 victory Thursday night, “but we’ve got to take it one step at a time, one day at a time. And we’re going into their territory so we’ve got a lot of work.”

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Curt Schilling allowed one run, four hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 5 1-3 innings in what may have been his last game for the Red Sox. Hideki Okajima followed with four strikeouts in 2 1-3 perfect innings.

Then Papelbon took over with two outs in the eighth.

He allowed Matt Holliday’s fourth single of the game, then caught him leaning the wrong way and picked him off by a wide margin. Then came the ninth ” strikeout, fly out, strikeout ” and Papelbon pumped his fist in the air three times and punched his glove, his mouth wide open as he let out a victory roar.

“It looks like he fears nothing on the mound and you want that out of your closer,” said Mike Lowell, whose double in the fifth drove in the tiebreaking run. “You want a little bit of that wackiness.

“I think the closer needs to have a little bit of that different mentality because you’ve got to be able to have a short-term memory, just erase it, go on and go to the next one.”

Papelbon converted 37 of 40 save opportunities, blowing just one in the last two months of the season. He’s appeared in five of Boston’s 12 postseason games without allowing a run. He has two saves in two chances.

Okajima, who struggled late in the season after being overworked, didn’t pitch for 13 days in September and was rested coming into the postseason. On Thursday, he became the first Japanese-born pitcher to play in the World Series.

“I didn’t know about it,” he said through a translator. “The greatest thing is that we won.”

The Japanese rookie who the Red Sox invested $103 million in, Game 3 starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, got the publicity. Okajima, who also pitched in Japan last year, has been as important to the club, if not more so.

With him and Papelbon at their best, the Rockies should have a tough time scoring in the last three innings of the remaining games.

Schilling called Thursday’s game, the “Pap-ajima” show.

While those relievers are just starting their careers with the Red Sox, Schilling’s may be at an end. A free agent after the season, his fourth with Boston, the team may not want to spend a lot of money on him with such promising young pitchers as Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz ready to play more prominent roles in the rotation.

“I guarantee you, everybody’s as sick of hearing about it as I am,” said Schilling, who waved his cap to all corners of the ballpark as he left to a deafening ovation. “Whatever happens is going to happen. They know what I want, and they know I want to come back.”

Schilling’s salary this year is $13 million. He wanted an extension in spring training, but general manager Theo Epstein preferred to see how his 40-year-old body held up. He finished at 9-8 with a 3.87 ERA and missed time with a shoulder problem.

But he’s unbeaten in this postseason with a chance to bookend his Boston career with World Series championships.

So next year is not a priority now.

“We’re trying to win a World Series,” he said, “so it makes it very, very easy not to even think about it.”

Schilling is one of the best postseason pitchers of all time with an 11-2 record and 2.23 ERA in 19 games. This postseason he’s 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA.

His success stems from a “will to make sure the score ends up in our favor,” said Terry Francona, who also managed Schilling with the Philadelphia Phillies. “I’ve been around him so long, I probably expect unfair things out of him. But that probably won’t stop.

“It’s a good feeling when he pitches. Whatever the situation, you know he’s prepared for it.”

And after he’s done his part, Okajima and Papelbon are ready to carry on.

“It all started with Okajima coming out and doing what he did,” Papelbon said. “I think that we all kind of just feed off of each other. That’s what we did tonight.”

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