Nick’s Raging Papelboner: Farewell to a Beloved Boston Closer

Posted: November 23, 2011 by mzyohai in MLB, Opinion, Red Sox
Tags: , , , , ,

Mike: You know what I’ll always remember about Jonathan Papelbon? It’s not going to be the joyful Gaelic feeling I get when he runs out to the Dropkick Murphys. “Shipping Up to Boston,” was never a favorite of mine.

It’s certainly not going to be his John Rocker-esque face that shouts “I’m actually as dumb as I look” as he broods from under his brim. Too bad he never made racist comments like Rocker did. His thoughts were as dumb as his face. And he played Atlanta… how many more reasons do you need to hate a person? Oh right, being a Yankee.

It won’t even be how awesome the word “Papelboner” is. It’s fantastic, truly.

No, I’ll always remember his last game in a Red Sox uniform. After an uncharacteristic performance, which would not have been “bad” for most other closers in the league, Papelbon capped off his and the Red Sox season by giving up the tying and winning runs to the divisional foes, the Baltimore Orioles. Is there a better way to remind Red Sox fans that they cannot trust anyone on that team if Papelbon basically holds the last nail for the coffin while Robert Andino (yeah, who?) hammers away.

But you don’t need to worry about Papelbon ever blowing a save again. But you will need to worry about him getting saves, because he’s moving to Philadelphia (the strangely “hot” place to be if you’re an athlete).

Nick, I leave it to you to eulogize the memory of Papelbon’s illustrious career in Boston. Rest in peace.

Nick: “Jonathan Papelbon is a saint! You understand me?”

It is horribly tragic that Pap’s career with the Sox had to come to an end in that fashion.  Yes, he blew the most important game of the season. (Not that it should have ever gotten to that point, but that’s another post for another time – namely when I’m dead, because I will never relive that month again after this. If I can help it. Hold on while I make the sign of the cross.) But he was the reason the Red Sox were even in a position to make the postseason.

First of all, when you look at his entire season, he was the man: 31 saves in 34 chances, a 2.94 ERA, he struck out 87 batters to just 10 walks in 64.1 innings, gave up just 3 HRs, and allowed less than a baserunner per inning (0.93 WHIP). When you take a look at the nerdy stats, his FIP was 1.53, meaning his ERA was higher than it should have been taking luck and fielders’ positioning out of the equation. Take all that into account and Papelbon was good for 3 Wins Above Replacement. That was second-best among relievers. Remove Papelbon from the bullpen and replace him with your average reliever, and the Red Sox fall apart. He was the anchor that let us get away with flabby randos like Matt Albers and Dan Wheeler.

Looking at the end of the season specifically, one can hardly blame him for that blown save. In the span of four calendar days, Papelbon fired 75 pitches over 4 innings. He pitched a perfect 2.1 innings in extra innings against the Yankees, throwing 29 pitches in providing a bridge until the Red Sox could scratch across a run. Two days later, he earned a 1 inning save, giving up a run on 2 hits while throwing 28 pitches.  The next day, Terry Francona threw him out to the wolves, because like I said, he was the anchor, the only one we could count on to seal the deal. If he couldn’t, no one else could. Another 18 pitches, and he was toast. We rode  with him, and we died with him.

Papelbon may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed (after all, he is a professional athlete, meaning he spent his formative years learning how to throw the ball in a tiny window of space at 95 mph, instead of spending $200 grand on how to read better – I prefer his life decision, to be honest). But he was fiery, and he gave a shit. He was emotionally charged, high-strung, and he lived and died with every pitch, every at-bat, every out, every save, and every win. He was a Southerner who had a shitload of fun on and off the field. He basked in the pressure, he relished the chance to shut the door in a big moment during a tight game, and he always asked for the ball. He wanted it. He may have been batshit crazy with those wide eyes and perpetual frown/glare on the mound, but he thrived in the ninth inning and made it his bitch. In other words, he was exactly what we Boston fans want out of our closer; he was the anti-J.D. Drew.

Mike:  Your honor, I’d like to submit into evidence People’s exhibit B, entitled “The Crucifixion of Bill Bucker.” That guy have 100+ RBIs in 1985 and 1986, and had more walks than strike-outs in that span. You Bostonites are getting soft if you’ll forgive a single bad performance in light of previous good deeds.

Nick: Please, Papelbon would have to throw underhand in order to pull a Buckner of his own. Besides, maybe it’s just me because I wasn’t born then, but I always thought Buckner got a raw deal. And I think more Boston fans are coming around to forgiving him. It’s also a lot easier when you’re one of two teams with multiple titles this side of the year 2000.

But since I’ve done my best to shut out any memory of September 2011 (is ten years later still too soon to call this my own personal 9/11?), his previous postseason performances will be the enduring memory I have of Papelbon. Until 2009, when he blew up in the ALDS against the Angels, he was a dominant postseason presence. In his first three postseasons, he gave up zero runs. ZERO! 25 IP, 22 Ks, 7 saves (just one blown), only 10 hits, 6 BBs, and an ERA of 0.00. He was lights out! The closest thing to a sure bet. Red Sox fans knew if we got to the ninth inning with a lead, we were walking away with a win. Do you know how hard it is to convince Red Sox fans a lead is safe in the ninth inning? It’s impossible (no thanks to you)! But Pap managed to do it.

Mike: How did he blow a save without giving up a run?

Nick: It’s Boston, this kind of crap happens all the time. (To be serious for a moment, he probably allowed an inherited runner to score.) But where was I? Ah, yes: 2007 was his crowning achievement. He dominated the postseason, but I’m not going to remember the strikeouts or the saves. Nope, I’m going to remember how he danced the fucking Irish jig. It’s fucking hilarious, and it still gives me the goosebumps. And a raging Papelboner. He rallied a whole fucking region behind him dancing like an idiot in front of 40,000 people to celebrate his sheer dominance. In his fucking spandex. Drenched in beer. It was awesome. It still is.

I fucking love that man.

Lucky for me, I don’t have to worry about facing him since he signed in the National League (I refuse to acknowledge a possible World Series meeting). Enjoy watching your overmatched hitters get blown away.

We salute you, Pap. You’re one of the legends.

  1. toosoxy says:

    i’ll remember him for that jig. sigh. i can’t believe the sox didn’t even talk to him!

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