After Papelbon neatly navigated his way out of traffic with a 5-4-3 double play, the Red Sox rode Mike Lowell's clutch, two-run single to a 6-3 victory over the Mariners in 12 innings.
Just like that, a road trip that began with the Red Sox getting swept in Anaheim ended with them doing the sweeping in Seattle. Heading into the latest pivotal showdown against the Yankees, which opens on Friday night at Fenway, this was a satisfying way for the Sox to go home.
"You'll take any lift you can get," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Just to continue to play, you commit to Pap in a game like that. Then to keep playing, the hope is what happened -- we end up scoring a few. We've seen it work the other way. The stick to it [approach] paid off today because we kept playing. We get to have a good flight. It will be a long one, but it will be a good one."
On a day they were without star slugger Manny Ramirez (sore right knee) and facing one of the nastiest pitchers in the game in Felix Hernandez, the Red Sox hung in there and ultimately outlasted the Mariners.
And it took Papelbon pitching for the third straight day to make the triumph possible. His inning got off to an ugly start when Jose Vidro hit a roller on that Papelbon was a little clumsy on. The pitcher bobbled the ball and lost his footing, turning a meekly hit ball into an infield single. With one out, Yuniesky Betancourt punched a hit-and-run single to right-center, and Vidro moved to third, just 90 feet from winning the game.
Francona came out for a meeting around the mound to discuss defense. And his ideal scenario came to life, when Kenji Johjima stung one right at Lowell, who quickly started the game-saving double play around the horn.
"Playing the infield in, so anything that I think isn't a remotely for-sure double play, I've got to go home," said Lowell. "A one-hopper, I think even if Ichiro [Suzuki] hit that one, I'm going to second. I'll take my chances on that. Me and Petey [Dustin Pedroia] ahead of time, I let him know that. It worked out good. Pap executed his pitch and we got out of that."
Not that Papelbon ever doubted he would.
"Just stayed focused on the job at hand, which was to go one pitch, one at-bat at a time," Papelbon said. "Just kind of slowed the game down is what I tried to do and kind of re-direct my focus on what my job at hand was. I was able to get through it."
So did the entire bullpen, which largely carried the day. It started with Justin Masterson, who didn't allow a baserunner over 2 2/3 innings in his Major League relief debut, striking out five. Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen also turned in solid performances before turning it over to Papelbon, who picked up the win. Craig Hansen overcame a shaky bottom of the 12th, stranding the bases loaded to earn his second save.
"I think we believe in them," said Francona. "I think we always have. On days when maybe things don't work, I still think we always believe. Sometimes it's a work in progress. But I think I've said all along, I think that will be one of our strengths. It has been inconsistent at times. Today was an example of how it can be. Consistency is the big word."
Masterson, the poised rookie who did a solid job when he was in the rotation earlier this year, could make a big difference.
"I was excited," said Masterson. "Adrenaline kind of took over. I just wanted to get in there and make sure nobody else scored. Let's hold us in there so the offense can get it together to get the win."
And that was finally achieved in that top of the 12th against Mariners reliever Sean Green. Jacoby Ellsbury salvaged something from a tough day (1-for-6) by leading off with a single. He moved to second on a fielder's choice and the Mariners then called for an intentional walk of J.D. Drew. The Red Sox then got a big break, as a fly ball to center by Kevin Youkilis was dropped by Willie Bloomquist for an error. That loaded the bases for Lowell, who delivered a clean single into left, bringing in Ellsbury and a hustling Drew.
"Just a good all-around approach," said Lowell. "I think we had that in that last inning by everyone."
Sean Casey padded the lead with an RBI single to right-center.
Starter Clay Buchholz turned in a decent effort for Boston, allowing seven hits and three runs over 5 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out seven.
In the third, the Sox nearly got a three-run homer from Drew, only to have Ichiro reach over the wall to rob that bid.
"My reaction was I was kind of disappointed," Drew said. "It would have been nice to have a three-run homer right there. That's been my luck on this trip. I've hit some balls really well and haven't gotten a lot to show for it. Just keep plugging along."
Sure enough, Youkilis followed with an RBI single to right that Ichiro misplayed for an error, allowing a second run to score to make it 2-0.
The Mariners got a big swing out of Raul Ibanez in the bottom of the fourth, resulting in a solo homer to right-center that sliced the lead to a run. But Hernandez got into some trouble in the sixth, walking Coco Crisp with the bases loaded and two outs to make it 3-1.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, the game had more turns left in it. Vidro jumped on a 2-0 fastball from Buchholz and ripped it over the wall in right to tie the game at 3. It stayed that way for a lot longer than anyone would have imagined.
"Today was a good day to win," Francona said. "We have a day off tomorrow -- rest up a little bit because guys are going to need it."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.