Once the initial shock of the 2009 postseason wears off and the Red Sox begin to calmly look back on their season in a rational manner, it will be time for the team to address the future of closer Jonathan Papelbon.
It was a frustrating year for the Sox' stopper — he struggled at times with his control and he suffered statistically as his WHIP (walks, hits per innings pitched) this season rose to a career-worst 1.15. Then came the postseason and we all know what happened there.
Papelbon was quick to take the blame when the Red Sox went down in flames in the ALDS against the Angels. Telling the media that "a lot of this is on me," Papelbon admitted that he had let his team down when it mattered most. The Red Sox were counting on him to get four crucial outs and keep their season alive and he failed them.
But one heartbreaking weekend, as bad as it may be, shouldn't tarnish our view of his stellar career in a Red Sox uniform.
You could make the case that over the past four years, Papelbon has been the best closer in baseball. He's certainly part of the select group of pitchers vying for that title along with Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan and — when healthy — his own teammate, Billy Wagner.
Papelbon's numbers between 2006 and 2009 are microscopic — we're talking about a 1.74 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and .190 batting average against. Papelbon also happened to break the Red Sox' all-time saves record at the tender age of 28. And until Sunday afternoon, he had a career postseason ERA of 0.00.
We shouldn't forget all of this simply because of one nightmarish inning.
What happened in the ninth inning of Sunday's Game 3 was painful and Papelbon will have a hard time living it down. However, once he and the Red Sox move on and begin to focus on 2010 and beyond, they'll know what's really important: maintaining the team's rock-solid relationship with one of the best closers money can buy.
Papelbon is still only through four seasons of major league service. Through the end of the 2011 season, he's still under Red Sox control, and if everything continues the way it's been going, Papelbon will continue to sign one-year contracts with the team while he plays out his first six years of service time.
The Sox should do everything they can to keep him happy. Pay him well and make sure he knows he's wanted here because for the next two years, he's the absolute best closer the Red sox could have.
Nothing against Wagner, who can still bring it at 38, or Daniel Bard, who has a very bright future in baseball. Simply put: Papelbon is still the man.
Pap has been so good that we almost take him for granted — the idea of an automatic ninth inning is so simple here in Boston that we don't think about it anymore. While Papelbon did blow a key save for the Red Sox in Game 3, he's still as close to automatic as we've ever seen here in Beantown.
Papelbon made $6.25 million this season in his latest one-year deal. This winter, he deserves a raise. The winter after that, probably another one. In the long run, the Red Sox should be convincing Papelbon that he's a member of the Red Sox for life. The rumors will never cease about the Red Sox' closer, but behind closed doors, the Sox can sit him down and tell him: He's their guy.
When reflecting on an October run gone sour, it's hard not to be disillusioned with the man who let the team down, but when that man is Jonathan Papelbon, you have to look at the big picture. In the long run, Papelbon is still one of the best. It will take some time, but eventually, we'll all realize that again.
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