BOSTON - The gate to the visitors' bullpen at Fenway Park opened at 9:31 p.m. Jonathan Papelbon paused there as the noise emanated from right field. He took two steps and jogged onto the field of the 101-year-old stadium. The Dropkick Murphys soundtrack was replaced by boos from people who once idolized the kooky closer with an alter ego.
This was Papelbon's moment, the ninth inning of a 3-1 Phillies victory Tuesday night that was willed by eight sublime innings from Cliff Lee. Papelbon, in his return to Boston, earned the save with 16 pitches.
"I don't think a whole lot," Papelbon said. "They don't pay me to think."
When he fanned Jonny Gomes on a 95 m.p.h. fastball he hopped off the mound. One out. "Attaboy," he said to Michael Young when the third baseman fielded a dangerous grounder. Two outs. He bounced when David Ortiz tapped one to second. Three outs.
Papelbon spun and pumped his right fist, as he does after every save. It was 9:43 p.m. Fenway Park was silenced.
It had been a curious decision to lift Lee; his 95 pitches were his fewest in a start this season. He had retired 23 of the last 25 batters he faced. Nonetheless, manager Charlie Manuel preferred his closer.
"I kind of wanted to see it, if you want to know the truth," Manuel said. "What the hell? Pap likes drama. Hell, I might as well like it with him."
Lee struck out eight and walked none. Boston's four hits were singles. His season ERA is 2.34. He has permitted a total of five runs in his last five starts (39 innings). The Phillies have won all five games.
"They just came up to me in the eighth and said that was it," Lee said.
Manuel said he would have chosen Papelbon regardless of where the Phillies played. Later, he admitted otherwise. Lee dazzled. Papelbon is pitching better than ever. His scoreless streak of 182/3 innings is nearing a career best. His ERA is 0.92.
As Papelbon tossed in the bullpen, the crowd began to take notice. A few fans started berating Papelbon, one Phillies reliever said. The 32-year-old pitcher was a Red Sox for seven years. He threw the final pitch in the 2007 World Series.
"It was electric out there," bullpen coach Rod Nichols said. "They did it the right way."
Papelbon pumped 96 m.p.h. on the radar gun. His fastball velocity averaged 95 m.p.h., according to PITCHf/x data. He has not thrown harder in 2013.
His adrenaline high remained well beyond the final pitch. Papelbon rode a stationary bike in the middle of the cramped Phillies clubhouse. He chugged water and watched basketball on a big-screen TV.
"It was more fun than strange," Papelbon said. "It's like playing against your brother in the backyard. For me, those guys are some of my best friends in the world."
The decisive Phillies rally was built on two singles and a sacrifice bunt in the seventh inning. John Mayberry Jr. slapped a Ryan Dempster offering to center. He moved to second when Freddy Galvis bunted. Erik Kratz poked a slider to center and Mayberry easily scored.
Michael Young and Domonic Brown bookended the game with solo home runs.
The fans stood at Fenway with two strikes and two outs and Papelbon on the mound. "It was like a home game," one Phillies player said. "I've never seen that anywhere else." It was natural for the Boston fans; Papelbon stood one pitch from victory. He savored every moment as villain in his former cathedral.