In just his fourth season as the Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon has already made a place for himself in the Sox’ record book.
With his 20th save in 22 chances Wednesday, Papelbon became the club’s all-time saves leader with #133.
Starting in 2006, when he recorded 35 saves (the third highest total ever for a rookie closer) Papelbon has steam-rolled past his predecessors, continually moving up the team's all-time saves list.
Papelbon is the first Boston closer to ever have two 30-save seasons, and he did it in back-to-back years. Naturally, he is also the first Red Sox closer to have three 30-save seasons. And he is more than two-thirds of the way there again this year before reaching the All Star break.
Papelbon got his 100th save last season, and it was only a matter of staying healthy before he surpassed the club’s previous saves leader, Bob “The Steamer” Stanley.
Stanley amassed 132 career saves over 13 seasons with the Sox, and held the team record for 20 years since retiring in 1989.
Stanley was a product of another era, and frequently threw long relief and had numerous two and three-inning saves. In fact, Stanley appeared in a club record 637 games, a mind-boggling number when you consider that the next closest Sox pitcher is Tim Wakefield, who has appeared in 519 games in his 15-year tenure with the Sox.
Yes, the save wasn’t even a recognized stat until 1969, so for more than 60 years of franchise history no one cared about or recorded such information.
But in the modern game, in which pitchers operate under fairly strict 100-pitch counts that are usually reached within six innings, the closer has become a much more important position.
Possessing a fastball that has been clocked at 99 miles per hour, plus a nasty split and changeup, Papelbon has been among the game's premier closers since first debuting in the role.
And now, without a doubt, he is the best closer that Red Sox fans have ever seen in a Boston uniform.
Last season, Papelbon leap-frogged past Derek Lowe, Jeff Reardon, Ellis Kinder, and Dick Radatz, in succession. Next up was Stanley, and Papelbon now stands alone in the Sox’ record book as the club’s all-time saves king.
It’s an impressive feat, considering that it was achieved in only four seasons as a closer.
Papelbon is at the top of his game. He possesses a strong will to compete and to win, and he’s got the confidence to match. It can be seen each time he takes the mound.
A fierce competitor with a bulldog mentality, the young righty is absolutely dominating and often overwhelms opposing batters. For most, just making contact probably feels like an accomplishment. Papelbon is averaging more than a strike per inning in his career, and more impressively has a K/BB ratio of 4.3 to 1.
The 28-year-old is one of five Red Sox closers have notched at least 40 saves in a season; Reardon, Ugueth Urbina, Lowe, and Tom Gordon - who had a club-record 46 saves in 1998 - are the others.
Papelbon could potentially break that record by season's end, and if not this year, it’s a good bet that it’s just a matter of time.
It would be quite fitting.
The young phenom is both respected and feared throughout baseball, and every team would rather have him than face him.
The numbers just keep piling up, and with each additional save Papelbon continues to stake his place in the Red Sox' storied history.
Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.