Pap becomes Sox's all-time saves leader
Boston closer passes Stanley on franchise list with No. 133
BALTIMORE -- Jonathan Papelbon stood in front of his locker after Wednesday's game, getting ready for the trip back home after the Red Sox rallied for a 6-5 victory over the Orioles in 11 innings. The assembled media then saw the two baseballs the Boston closer had in his possession and asked where they were going.
"They're in my bag right here," Papelbon said with a smile. "They're going on the plane with me."
Those baseballs are special to Papelbon, because they represent the final outs of the games on Monday and Wednesday. The Monday ball was the save that tied Bob Stanley's record for career saves, and the ball from Wednesday's win represented the save that made Papelbon tops in franchise history in that category.
Papelbon retired the Orioles in order in the 11th for his 20th save this season. After Aubrey Huff popped out to Boston shortstop Julio Lugo for the final out, the ball went to the 28-year-old -- as did a place in team history.
The right-hander now has 133 saves and is in his fourth year as the Boston closer. He's quickly become one of the game's best at his job.
"Obviously, it feels good," Papelbon said. "When I set out to do this -- to be the closer for the Boston Red Sox -- there was definitely a lot of goals in sight, and this was one of them. So to get there and to kind of finally get it and to kind of get it out of my head and stop thinking about it is definitely good for me."
What added a little spice was that it came one day after he couldn't convert just his second save of the season. Papelbon gave up a game-winning two-run double to Nick Markakis to wrap up a five-run eighth inning that gave the Orioles a come-from-behind 11-10 victory.
Wednesday's game was nothing like that. The Red Sox (48-30) scored four runs in the ninth to tie it and won it on Lugo's RBI single in the 11th.
Papelbon then came on, needing just 18 pitches to set down Baltimore (35-44) in order to lock up the win and the save record.
"To come back and bounce back was big," Papelbon said. "It feels different. To kind of get it out of your head and to move on was big for me. Now, me and my coaches and the rest of my bullpen can put that out of the way and move forward."
Boston manager Terry Francona loves having Papelbon as his closer, waving off talk of the right-hander giving up more walks this season. The skipper said Papelbon is just great at his job.
"He's been so good since he's come into this role," Francona said. "He's growing up, he's getting stronger. He knows his body better, [and] when he gets into the game, he's ready to pitch."
Catcher Jason Varitek agreed with Francona, saying that the future could be even brighter for Papelbon.
"He's been really good," Varitek said. "If he maintains his health, he's going to have a long career. And he's been able to really stabilize our bullpen, where, when we've had years of struggle, you don't have that means to an end -- a guy at the end of the bullpen."
Josh Beckett started this game and bounced back after a shaky start to give the Red Sox seven strong innings. He kept them in it after the Orioles nearly blew it open early.
But Boston needed the bullpen to come up big again, and it did. Papelbon began getting ready when the Red Sox threatened to break the tie in the 11th, and he was there once again at the end.
"I think he's part of that spine down there in the bullpen," Beckett said. "I think our bullpen, their numbers speak for themselves, but it's been a real big key to the starters' success and our team's success."
And now there's no question that Papelbon's been the best closer in the franchise's long and storied history. He might set a record for saves that could be very hard to break.
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.