It was worth the delay.
Hours after he first took the mound -- only to be sent away when the grounds crew pulled out the tarp -- the Red Sox reliever struck out Rodriguez on three pitches with the potential go-ahead run on base and finished off the Yankees in the ninth to lead Boston to a 4-3 victory over the New York Yankees.
"I said to myself, 'This is the ballgame right here,"' Papelbon said Saturday after picking up his fourth save in four tries. "Everybody, top to bottom, worked their butts off to put us in a position to win. I wasn't going to let that go to waste."
A day after Chien-Ming Wang pitched a two-hitter to beat Boston in the series opener, Josh Beckett (1-1) rebounded from a bad season debut with 6 2/3 solid innings. Manny Ramirez hit his 492nd career homer, then he added a two-run double to give the Red Sox the lead in the sixth when Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided to pitch to him even though first base was open.
"You know," Girardi said, shrugging his shoulders, "it didn't work."
Beckett allowed just one questionable hit in the first five innings, and five hits in all, walking one, striking out five and throwing two wild pitches.
Mike Mussina (1-2) allowed four runs and eight hits before leaving after Ramirez doubled with two out in the sixth to give Boston a 3-2 lead. Brian Bruney relieved him and gave up an RBI single to Kevin Youkilis before J.D. Drew popped to short to end the inning.
New York put runners on first and second with two outs in the eighth, with dark clouds enveloping Fenway Park. Boston manager Terry Francona hesitated to bring Papelbon in with a potential rain delay looming.
"Couldn't wait any longer," Francona said. "I didn't want to do it."
Papelbon warmed up, but the tarps came out and heavy rain fell. The weather cleared, the tarp came off, and Papelbon came out to warm up again, but another front passed over the ballpark and thunder and lightning followed.
"My whole goal was just not to sit down during the rain delay, just keep my blood flowing," he said. "I definitely had to stay in the right mind-set the whole time. I never let it go. ... I stayed there the entire time. I maintained my intensity."
Finally, more than two hours later, Papelbon stared in at Rodriguez and struck him out. Only about 10,000 of the sellout crowd remained by the time the Red Sox closer stuck out two more in a perfect ninth.
"We gave him a pretty good lecture after that second delay about it being such a long season," Francona said. "We just need to take care of him tomorrow. ... But we played such a good ballgame, and we'll go ahead and win this one."
Ramirez hit a solo homer off a billboard above the seats above the Green Monster to give Boston a 1-0 lead in the fourth. After the Yankees scored twice in the sixth, Jacoby Ellsbury singled and Dustin Pedroia doubled with one out in the bottom half.
Girardi decided to pitch to slumping David Ortiz, who was hitless in his last 15 at-bats and batting just .073. Mussina struck out Ortiz -- his only strikeout of the game and the 20th time he's fanned the Red Sox DH, the most for any pitcher he's faced.
But with first base still open Mussina pitched to Ramirez and gave up a first-pitch line drive to right-center that scored both runners.
"(Girardi) asked me who I felt better with. I said I felt the same with both guys," Mussina said, turning testy when the questions about the sequence kept coming. "We had a plan. It happens. ... Are we doing to dwell on this all night?"
Beckett won eight of his last nine starts in 2007, including all four in the playoffs to lead the Red Sox to their second World Series title in four seasons. But he hurt his lower back in spring training, missed the team's season-opening trip to Tokyo and gave up five runs in 4 2-3 innings in his 2008 debut.
- Ortiz went 0-for-4 and is 3-for-43 for the season.
- Yankees SS Derek Jeter missed his fifth straight game with a strained left thigh.
- The German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
- Yankees OF Hideki Matsui got the day off.
- Ramirez hit his 53rd homer against the Yankees, tying Hank Greenberg for third-most overall. Jimmie Foxx has 70, Ted Williams 62 and Carl Yastrzemski 52. Ramirez has seven homers against Mussina, the third most for any pitcher he's faced. He also has 155 RBI against the Yankees -- third-most for any player. Yaz is first with 163.
- Mussina's lone strikeout moved him into 21st on the career list, passing David Cone, with 2,669.