He endeared himself to New England last spring when he modestly let it be known he was willing to be a “hero in the dark.”
But in the brightest lights baseball can offer, the shadows fell away forever for Hideki Okajima.
The 31-year-old reliever spawned concerns in September that he might not make it to the finish line of a season as demanding as any he had ever pitched. Those fears proved unfounded in Game 2 of the 103d World Series, as Okajima retired all seven batters he faced, striking out four in Boston’s 2-1 win over the Colorado Rockies.
Okajima, the first Japanese pitcher to appear in a World Series game, served as the bridge between starting pitcher Curt Schilling, a winner for the 11th time in his postseason career, and closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Fifty teams have taken a two-games-to-none lead in the World Series. Thirty-nine have gone on to win the championship, including each of the last six seasons.
The Sox won their sixth straight Series game and fifth straight of this postseason with one never-before-seen wrinkle. Papelbon, who had not picked off a runner since he broke into the big leagues in 2006, nabbed Matt Holliday straying off first base to close out the eighth inning. Holliday had nearly taken out both Papelbon and second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a line single up the middle, his fourth hit of the night. The ball appeared to glance off Papelbon’s leg and caused Pedroia, who gloved the ball with a sprawling spot, to writhe in pain after he landed heavily on the left shoulder he’d dislocated once this postseason.
At the plate was Todd Helton, the signature player in Rockies history. But he never saw a pitch in the eighth, as Papelbon whirled and picked off Holliday.
”Probably will go down as one of the biggest outs of my career,” Papelbon said.
The Sox, who had raked 17 hits, nine for extra bases, in routing the Rockies in Game 1, managed just six hits in Game 2. But their lone extra-base hit, a double by Mike Lowell, broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth and scored David Ortiz with the run that stood up as the difference.
Ubaldo Jimenez required just six pitches to set down the Sox in order in the first after his teammates grabbed a 1-0 lead when Willy Taveras was grazed in the hand by a pitch, sped to third when Holliday’s smash was knocked down by third baseman Mike Lowell but rolled into short left field, and scored when Helton rolled to first.
The Sox did not have a hit until the fourth.
In the fourth, Jimenez, who had hit J.D. Drew in the right ankle with a pitch in the second and walked two batters in the third, walked Lowell with one out. Drew followed by lining a single to right, Lowell advancing to third and Drew moving to second when right fielder Brad Hawpe attempted to nail Lowell at third. Jason Varitek brought Lowell home with a sacrifice fly to center, Drew moving up another base, and Jacoby Ellsbury drew another walk.
Jimenez survived to start another inning when Julio Lugo, after scorching a ball down the third base line inches foul, grounded to first.
But with two outs and nobody on in the fifth, Jimenez issued his fifth walk, to Ortiz. Manny Ramírez grounded a single through the left side, and Lowell doubled over the head of third baseman Garrett Atkins, scoring Ortiz to make it 2-1.
For the second straight game, Rockies manager Clint Hurdle had to go to his bullpen in the fifth. He brought in lefthander Jeremy Affeldt, who lasted just one batter as he walked Drew to load the bases. In came Matt Herges, who retired Varitek on a fly ball to end the inning.
Herges gave up a leadoff single to Ellsbury in the sixth. Lugo bunted him to second, and Ellsbury took third on an infield out by Dustin Pedroia. When Kevin Youkilis walked, Boston’s seventh of the night, Hurdle summoned lefty Brian Fuentes to face Ortiz, who flied to left. The Sox stranded 10 runners in six innings.
Curt Schilling, meanwhile, allowed just four singles before he was lifted in the sixth after Holliday lined a one-out hit to left and Helton walked. Terry Francona brought in Okajima earlier than normal, and Okajima responded, retiring Atkins on a tapper to first and striking out Hawpe on three pitches.