Papelbon feels rejuvenated, at home
Closer, rested and ready, wants chance to stay with Red Sox
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- To put Jonathan Papelbon's dominance in perspective, consider that he is likely to become the Red Sox's all-time saves leader in just his fourth full season in the Major Leagues.
But if things go as Papelbon hopes, he will be with the Red Sox long enough to make that record nearly untouchable. With 113 saves, Papelbon needs 20 more to surpass the mark set by Bob Stanley.
Though Papelbon's wish is to stay in Boston for as long as he can, the 28-year-old righty knows that the reality of business at least has a chance to get in the way.
While Dustin Pedroia got a six-year deal over the winter and Kevin Youkilis signed for four more years, Papelbon reached agreement with the Sox on a one-year deal for $6.25 million. The Red Sox control his contractual rights for two more seasons, meaning he could be eligible to become a free agent after 2011.
"I'm not disappointed," Papelbon said. "I think that this offseason we discussed a long-term deal, but it never really transpired into anything that made both sides happy. I don't think that anything really came of it. I think the big thing is that we were able to come to an agreement with a one-year deal and I think that the Red Sox stepped up big for me, there's no question, with that one-year deal."
Papelbon has come to love everything that comes with pitching for the Red Sox, from the adrenaline of the crowd to the passion of the city to the perennial success of the team.
"[But] I'm not one of those guys who would be willing to give up what I feel that I'm worth to get that security," said Papelbon.
On to more immediate matters, Papelbon is eager for 2009. And yes, he can now admit that his tank was all but empty by the time the Red Sox got to Game 7 of last October's American League Championship Series against the Rays.
"Obviously last year, toward the end of the ALCS, I was starting to kind of break down and start to feel the effects of the season, and I'm not going to sit here and deny that I didn't," Papelbon said. "For me, it was, I think, with our season the way it was -- we had a couple of injuries with our starters.
"When your starters go down, it tends to have a domino effect on your bullpen. I think that our bullpen had to pick up a little bit of extra work, which I don't think any one of us in our bullpen weren't willing and able to do. It's just that was the effect of it. When you start picking up extra innings that you're not used to, you've got to kind of learn kind of use that throttle."
One of the great what-if's of last October is this: Who would have saved Game 7 for the Red Sox if the opportunity had presented itself? It would not have been Papelbon.
"It was a situation that, yeah, if we would have gone into extra innings or something, that might have been a different story," Papelbon said. "I wanted to be able to pitch in the World Series and be able to partake in it and not go down and have some injury affect me from being able to do that."
To pull out their epic comeback from 7-0 down in Game 5, the Red Sox needed 38 high-octane pitches from Papelbon over two innings.
|"I know that's tough to be with a team for that long. ... Especially in this day and age. I would love to do that."|
|-- Jonathan Papelbon, on his desire to stay with the Red Sox|
And as for Papelbon's usage, Francona will continue to be mindful of it, just as he's been since the righty had a right shoulder scare at the end of 2006.
"He's been with us a few years. There's a huge trust factor," Francona said. "But we talk to him, [pitching coach] John Farrell, [assistant trainer] Mike Reinold, and we make a decision every night on what he has, or what he won't do, or whether he'll be available. There's never been a game where we changed our mind."
This season, thanks to a deeper bullpen that has added Takashi Saito and Ramon Ramirez to go along with Papelbon's previous setup men (Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima and Justin Masterson), there could be less of a strain on Papelbon.
"It's going to help a lot," Papelbon said. "You look at a guy's situation last year -- Frankie Rodriguez very rarely came in and pitched more than one inning. Mainly because his guys prior to him in his bullpen were doing such a phenomenal job, and I think that took a lot of pressure of him and you saw what kind of year he had.
"I definitely am pleased with our bullpen and the way that [general manager] Theo [Epstein] put it together this offseason. I definitely came into camp with a smile on my face, knowing that there is a little bit of pressure taken off of me, knowing that we have plenty of firepower in our bullpen this year."
But the man who will again be counted on to put out most of those fires is Papelbon.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.