- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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DENVER -- It took just eight pitches -- the last eight pitches of the night -- to wipe out the glorious improbability of Ubaldo Jimenez, the best pitcher in the National League, being knocked around by a kid who plays as though every day might be his last in the big leagues, a pitcher who tripled his lifetime total of one big-league hit and a survivor whose last home run of consequence in these parts was hit in the state high school championship game in Denver Public Stadium, a lifetime away from Coors Field.
Only eight pitches to cancel any celebrations of rookie Daniel Nava's two doubles and three RBIs, hometown hero Darnell McDonald's game-tying two-run home run,
John Lackey's two hits, including a double, and a romp around the bases for what at the time was the go-ahead run.
Only eight pitches to erase, at least for the moment, the sweet memories of Jonathan Papelbon's last visit here, when his roar of triumph after closing out the 2007 World Series surely echoed off the mountain peaks in the distance.
And it took just one pitch, a split-fingered fastball from Papelbon that elected to pose for pictures rather than tumble out of sight, for Jason Giambi to reclaim a vestige of better days that had all but come to an end for a long-past-his-prime slugger.
The Red Sox, on the verge of dousing Jimenez with a little mortality -- putting up six runs against a pitcher who had allowed just 13 in 14 previous starts this season -- instead had some of their own exposed when Papelbon, in the span of eight pitches, gave up a game-tying home run to Ian Stewart to lead off the bottom of the ninth, a broken-bat single, a sacrifice bunt and a game-winning home run by the 39-year-old Giambi. That gave the Rockies an 8-6 victory over the stunned Sox.
"Pretty tough, man,'' said Papelbon, who had a win and seven saves since his last blown save, the ninth-inning disaster in New York five weeks ago that bore a distasteful parallel to this one. On that night in the Bronx, the Sox closer gave up home runs to Alex Rodriguez and Marcus Thames after the Sox had fought from behind.
Papelbon had been defiant after that one, vowing not to remain knocked down. On Wednesday night, he sat in red-stockinged feet and full uniform, his head buried in his hands, for painfully long moments in the visitors' clubhouse while reporters kept a silent vigil nearby.
He finally arose from his chair to head for the shower, but when he came back, his eyes remained focused somewhere else, as he robotically answered questions. Why did this one seem to affect him so much?
"Just for the simple fact,'' he said, "that I've been throwing the ball well and tonight I go out there and throw flat pitches.''
Stewart, who tied the game at 6, had not hit a home run at home this season until he crushed a no-doubter into the right-field seats. "A flat fastball I left across the plate,'' Papelbon said.
Giambi, who turned 39 in January, had only one pinch-hit all season, and overall was batting .194, an average higher than only eight other National Leaguers with at least 85 plate appearances.
"That's why I came back, for moments like these,'' Giambi said after he hit a towering fly to right that ended Boston's night with a second straight loss to the Rockies.
On Tuesday, when the Sox returned to the clubhouse that they had left soaked in champagne three Octobers earlier, Papelbon was asked what he remembered most.
"The biggest thing that stood out to me was for us to be able to come here to a place none of us had ever played before, in a packed 50,000-person stadium, and not let the series get away from us, to keep the pressure on them,'' he said. "That kind of surprised me. I didn't think we'd be able to come into a big place like this and walk away with it the way we did.''
Wednesday night, before another packed house (48,243) that included Sox owner John W. Henry, neither the Red Sox nor Papelbon exited unscathed.
"There was a lot happening tonight,'' manager Terry Francona said. "And when it's all said and done, you look up and we got Pap out there in the ninth, with a lead.''
Usually that has been enough. Not on this night.
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.
Papelbon's collapse casts a shadow on an impressive night for the Red Sox.