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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #56: Jonathan Papelbon

Closers are a unique breed, like goalies in hockey or kickers in football. They’re often wired a bit differently, which might be why they can perform in such pressure-laden moments after sitting around most of the time. The Sox have had their share of odd ducks as ninth-inning game-savers, from Radatz to Lee to Urbina to today’s profiled hurler, Jonathan Papelbon.

Pap was a homegrown arm. After a heralded career at Mississippi State, he was selected by the Sox in the 4th round of the 2003 MLB draft. By 2005 he was with the big club in Boston, where an attempt was underway to make him a starter. Instead, he started 2006 as their flamethrowing closer when Keith Foulke couldn’t effectively return from injury. Pap would record 35 saves and make the first of four straight All-Star games before shutting it down in September with a shoulder injury.

2007 was a memorable campaign for team and player alike. With a 1.85 ERA and 37 saves Pap was an All-Star again, and then helped pitch the Sox to a World Championship. He was on the mound when the Sox recorded the final out, sweeping the Rockies in four games. He continued to be effective in 2008 (41 saves) and 2009 (38), making the All-Star team again both seasons.

In the 2009 playoffs the trouble started. He blew an easy save in game three of the ALDS against the Angels, earning the Sox an early exit from the postseason. 2010 was a struggle, blowing eight saves (against 37 converted). He rebounded in 2011 with 31 saves and only three blown, but one of those was in the final game of the season when the Sox famously choked away a playoff berth down the stretch. It would be Papelbon’s final appearance for the Red Sox, as the team’s all-time leader in saves with 219 became a free agent.

Papelbon would close for the Phillies (he’s their all-time saves leader as well) and the Nationals before retiring in 2016. His 368 career saves are ninth all-time in MLB history, and he recorded them in just 12 seasons, the fewest of any closer in the top 12.

But those are all just numbers. What made Pap so memorable was his wacky, freewheeling persona, his unfettered enthusiasm and penchant for saying whatever he was thinking. Teammate Curt Schilling once said “he isn’t a charter member of Mensa”. When Curt Schilling of all people calls you dumb...

Anyway, Papelbon was fun to watch, and dominating when at his best. And he helped bring a ring to Boston. He’s only 39, by the way. Any mileage left in that arm?

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