Rockies fall to the curse of the Black Pearl
They don’t consider themselves pitchers, but pirates.
Their cramped Fenway Park bullpen is known as The Black Pearl.
Their weathered mascot is a stuffed parrot.
Their theme song is a Caribbean drum melody they rap out on the top of the bullpen roof with water bottles and tarp nails.
They call each other odd names from long-ago eras, with setup man Hideki Okajima known as The Eastern Wizard, and closer Jonathan Papelbon known as The Lost Boy.
Their personalities are peculiar, their methods are maddening, but on a swashbuckling Thursday night at the World Series, their message was clear.
A day after the Boston Red Sox offense drowned the Colorado Rockies for 13 runs, the Red Sox bullpen shoved them off the plank with 3 2/3 scoreless innings to save a 2-1 victory, and now what can you say?
How do you describe a team that can pound you one day, and dance around you the next?
What do you say about a team that wins with 13 runs one day, and 13 ghosts the next?
How do you talk about a team that has won the first two World Series games with bats one minute, arms the next minute, stars here, scrubs there, winning from every corner of the rowdy clubhouse and every alley of the creaky stadium?
Two days into a World Series that feels more like a national coronation, you say what Papelbon said after he watched Brad Hawpe take a mighty whiff at a 97-mph fastball to finish Thursday night.
He screamed at catcher Jason Varitek, whose fly ball tied the score, 1-1, in the fourth inning.
He screamed at third baseman Mike Lowell, whose double broke the tie an inning later.
Finally, he turned and screamed at a thundering Red Sox Nation that fully expects it has seen the last of a team that could clinch the world championship this weekend in Colorado,.
“I think this place, you know, delivers an adrenaline and an intensity like none other,” Papelbon said.
So does his bullpen, which has not allowed a run in 5 2/3 innings in this World Series, once again adding a bold exclamation point to the declarative sentence that is the Red Sox rotation.
It’s not enough that Boston began this series with two of the best postseason starters in baseball history. Now they can follow them with a duo that has not allowed a run in 17 1/3 postseason innings?
“This was a Papa-Jima show tonight,” said starter and winner Curt Schilling, who didn’t need to explain what he meant.
In the sixth inning, with Rockies on first and second and one out, while Schilling was royally walking off to a standing ovation, Okajima was crazily rubbing his lucky parrot and running into the game to face Garrett Atkins.
He fell behind him 2-and-1, sighed, then threw a breaking pitch that Atkins grounded to first base.
Three pitches later, he struck out Hawpe on a huge swing to end the threat.
“All the stuff that happens down in our bullpen, it’s the kind of place that has really relaxed Okajima and made him feel at home here,” said Eric Gagne of the newcomer from Japan. “You can see it in his pitching.”
Okajima retired the next five Rockies -- making it seven up and seven down -- while hearing the crowd chant, “Ok-a-ji-ma!”
He then gave the ball to Papelbon with the bases clear and two out in the eighth, leading to a new crowd cry, something which sounded like a giant gasp.
The free-spirited southerner pounded fists with a stadium cop before taking the mound, at which point he immediately gave up an infield single to Matt Holliday.
Up stepped Todd Helton and -- here came that gasp -- Papelbon immediately threw to first base and picked off a wandering Holliday to end the inning.
“It was just a simple pick,” said Papelbon. “Probably will go down as one of the biggest outs in my career so far.”
That was followed by three more big outs in the ninth inning, two strikeouts sandwiched around a fly out, a swath cut through the middle of the Rockies order.
Then came the scream which, if nothing else, was considerably more understated than two of his previous celebrations.
After the Red Sox clinched the American League East Division championship, Papelbon performed a lengthy Irish jig in his underwear in the middle of the Fenway Park diamond.
You don’t believe, check it out on YouTube.
Then, after the Red Sox won the American League Championship Series here, he did another lengthy dance, but at least this time he was wearing pants.
Said fellow reliever Mike Timlin to reporters: “You’re going to need a lot more tape if we’re going to describe Papelbon’s mentality.”
Said reliever Kyle Snyder: “He’s an incredibly free spirit, which obviously allows him to be the kind of pitcher he is.”
Now the Black Pearl sets sail for the uncertain waters of Colorado, which scares its crew far less than they scare each other.
“If we get this thing done, then we’re really going to party,” Papelbon said late Thursday night, smiling as if ready to scream again, a Lost Boy found.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.