Papelbon: Locked in

BOSTON -- Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon believes he’s at his best when the game is on the line.

He really hasn’t had an opportunity to perform his duties in the early part of this season because of the Sox’s struggles, but the hard-throwing right-hander was back on center stage in the team’s home opener against the New York Yankees on Friday afternoon at Fenway Park.

With the Sox clinging to a 9-6 lead, Papelbon recorded his first save of the season when he retired the side in order, striking out both Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter before getting Mark Teixeira to fly out to center field to end the game and secure Boston’s first victory of 2011.

“The way the ball is coming out of my hand is the way it was coming out in '06 and '07,” Papelbon said. “I need to keep doing my work in order to maintain that.”

Prior to his outing on Friday against the Yankees, Papelbon had worked in only one of the previous six games. He allowed one run on two hits with a walk and three strikeouts against the Texas Rangers on April 3.

“For me, it’s been tough to get my work in,” Papelbon said. “As a closer, you always want to get a steady amount of work in, and that’s been hard for me the past six games. I knew this series would be big and I had to stay ready.”

Papelbon was efficient Friday and able to throw all three of his pitches with conviction and success against the three potentially potent Yankee hitters he faced.

“I felt good; I felt like I was throwing the ball downhill,” he said. “The ball is coming out of my hand the way it should be right now. I’m going to try to maintain that and do the work possible to maintain that throughout the season.”

For the first time this season, the Red Sox witnessed the possibilities when Bobby Jenks, Daniel Bard and Papelbon work together in a game.

“That’s the reason they brought Jenks here,” Papelbon said. “As a bullpen, we feel like if you can get the ball to us in the late innings of a game, we should be able to hold it.”

After starter John Lackey surrendered six runs on seven hits with two walks, a wild pitch and a hit batsman, he still earned the victory thanks to his offense and bullpen.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, they began this three-game set against the Yankees with a much-needed victory. As much as Papelbon was thrilled to finally work a meaningful game, the team win was much bigger.

“The biggest thing for us is getting that so-called monkey off our back,” Papelbon said. “We can move on to the next game and start playing our game.”