"I had him 0-2, which was exactly what I wanted to do, obviously," said Papelbon. "In that situation, I've got to throw him something that is outside the zone, and I didn't do that."
If that wasn't enough, there was yet another compelling battle of gravity to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Mariano Rivera's Hall of Fame cutter vs. David Ortiz's mammoth home run stroke.
Big Papi worked an 11-pitch at-bat that ended with a drive to right field. But it landed with a thud, in the glove of right fielder Bobby Abreu at the warning track.
Perhaps the steady rain, which couldn't contain Rodriguez's shot, got just enough of Ortiz's to keep it in the yard.
"I mean, it was typical," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Yankees-Red Sox, David-Rivera, such a great at-bat. Hate to say it, but he didn't get under it enough. I'm sure the conditions didn't help. There was no carry at all. It was a great at-bat."
The drama of the ninth was a fitting way for yet another gripping series between the Red Sox and the Yankees to come to an end.
By taking the rubber match in Boston, the Yankees have now won four out of the last six against the Sox. But still, they trail by 12 1/2 games in the American League East.
The rivals bid adieu shortly after midnight on Monday with the knowledge they won't meet again until Aug. 28. One can only wonder how much will change over the next 86 days. The Red Sox, despite Sunday's outcome, would easily settle for status quo. They'd bottle the way they are playing -- not to mention the way the standings read -- and twist the cap on tight.
But the Yankees might have found something in this series.
"This is very important," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "Obviously, it doesn't make a huge dent in the lead that the Red Sox have, but I think it did a great deal for our confidence coming in here."
Even with Josh Beckett pitching, the Sox were down 4-0 before staging a five-run rally in the fifth inning against Andy Pettitte.
Jason Varitek, Wily Mo Pena and Coco Crisp roped singles to load the bases with nobody out. After Julio Lugo struck out, the sizzling Dustin Pedroia walloped a three-run double high off the wall in left-center, slimming the deficit to a run. Ortiz then roped a game-tying RBI single to right that turned into all kinds of problems for the Yankees when Abreu let the ball roll past him and all the way to the edge of the warning track. Abreu would have his chance for redemption later.
Pettitte exited after 82 pitches with back tightness and Luis Vizcaino came on in relief. Following an intentional walk to Manny Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis delivered a sac fly to center that gave the Red Sox their first lead at 5-4.
But back came the Yankees, who tied it the top of the eighth, when Robinson Cano smashed an RBI triple to right against Hideki Okajima, whose misstep was every bit as rare as the one turned in by Papelbon.
With nobody out and Cano on third, Okajima was somehow able to strand him there, giving the Red Sox a chance at the last laugh.
And Boston nearly did go ahead in the bottom of the eighth. With two on and two outs, Pedroia crushed a drive to right-center that looked bound for extra bases. But Abreu made a terrific catch to flag the ball down in full stride.
"I crushed it, the wind was blowing in and it was raining," Pedroia said. "I thought it was going to be over his head. No big deal, he made a good play."
"I'll take the way we played," said Varitek. "They just had one more run."