"The past couple of years, he was just a little, not a whole lot, but just a little timid to pound the strike zone," said Papelbon. "Now he's just saying, 'The heck with it, I'm going to go out there with my best stuff. Here it is, hit it.' He's been extremely successful. Once you get that, [the] sky is the limit."
Since his most recent recall on June 17, Delcarmen has shown the Red Sox that they have a reliever they can count on to complement the dominant 1-2 punch of Hideki Okajima and Papelbon.
The day was almost overly cozy for the Red Sox entering the top of the seventh. The home team had a 7-1 lead and most of the packed house of 36,629 probably started to have their minds wandering about postgame barbeques or fireworks shows.
But Wakefield loaded the bases with one out and lefty specialist Javy Lopez, enlisted to clean up the mess, instead added to it by giving up a two-run double to Carl Crawford and a two-run single to Carlos Pena.
Suddenly, the atmosphere grew tense and fans began squirming in their seats. But Delcarmen unloaded a 96-mph heater on the inside corner that Jonny Gomes watched go by for strike three.
"I've faced Jonny Gomes before. I faced him twice in Tampa," Delcarmen said. "I normally would never throw a fastball in there, but I feel so confident this year coming in on lefties and righties that I think it surprised him a little me coming inside. It just felt good."
It felt better than having a mechanically-challenged Spring Training that led to Delcarmen's demotion back to the Minor Leagues. And it felt a lot better than the infamous night at Buffalo in May when Delcarmen and fellow prospect Craig Hansen combined to give up nine runs in the ninth in a disastrous 15-14 loss.
Delcarmen has built himself back up over these last few weeks.
"He worked real hard," said manager Terry Francona. "The player development people really had a good plan and made him use all his pitches and throw multiple innings so when he got here, we wouldn't be getting pigeon-holed. And he is showing a lot of poise. The ball is coming out of his hands with a lot of movement."
And after Delcarmen's key punchout in the seventh, he struck out two more in the eighth, setting the table perfectly for Papelbon, who took care of the rest.
It was the third win in a row for the Sox, who have recovered nicely after losing five out of six.
Wakefield went 6 1/3 innings and allowed seven hits and four runs. He walked two and struck out two and did enough to push his record to 9-8.
"I felt great," said Wakefield. "The seventh inning, I threw just six pitches and I turned around and the bases were loaded. Overall, I felt pretty good today. Obviously, our offense made it a whole lot easier to pitch."
With Manny Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia all resting up in the day game after a night game, Mike Lowell led a balanced offensive attack with two runs and two hits, including a two-run homer.
"A couple of guys didn't play today and we are still able to have some production throughout the lineup," said Francona. "We talk so much about wanting to use the whole team and we do, and it is nice when you get rewarded with it, too."
The Red Sox got off to a promising start when Coco Crisp led off the bottom of the first with a triple into the corner in right. Alex Cora then drove Crisp in on a sacrifice bunt to the right side.
The Rays got the run back quickly, as Raul Casanova put one over the wall in left with two outs in the top of the second.
But the Boston bats broke out against Edwin Jackson in the fourth. David Ortiz led off with a single to right. Lowell smashed a one-out single to left. Jacoby Ellsbury, who has managed to make things happen in the first few days of his Major League career, slammed an RBI double to left-center to give Boston a 2-1 lead.
"This is fun winning ballgames and contributing to the team," Ellsbury said. "Two outs, I was just trying to hit something hard, just try to drive the ball up the middle. With two outs, he threw me a slider that I stayed through and ended up hitting it hard."
Doug Mirabelli did the same, hammering a two-run single to right to make it a three-run lead. An inning later, Jackson still had no answer for the Sox. J.D. Drew lofted an RBI double off the lower part of the wall in left and Lowell unloaded for a two-run homer over the Monster to make it 7-1.
"Every run is important," said Lowell. "We needed those two runs, which is good. This is a pretty offensive league. We saw how quickly they put four runs up on the board. Getting out to a 7-1 lead is much better than not."
Even after much of that lead whittled away, Delcarmen and Papelbon were able to keep the game in hand.
"When you throw 97, you better have a lot of confidence," Cora said of Delcarmen. "And he does right now."
Delcarmen has been unscored on in six of his last seven outings.
"Hopefully, we can be together in this bullpen for a long time to come, because he is such a powerful weapon coming out of the 'pen because he has that strikeout ability," said Papelbon. "Now he has the ability to, when he falls behind 3-0, or 3-1, to still punch somebody out."