NEW YORK — Jonathan Papelbon was asked if picking up career save No. 200 on Tuesday, thereby becoming the fastest player in baseball history to reach that milestone, was even more special because it happened in Yankee Stadium.
He initially shrugged it off, stressing that he gets pumped up to get the final out no matter where he is pitching, and no matter who the opponent might be.
Then, he was reminded of the man in the other bullpen, Mariano Rivera, who held the previous mark for being the quickest to 200. That's when Papelbon's tone changed, and on a historic night for the Red Sox closer, he shed light on the guy who paved the way.
"I've always called him the godfather. That's what he is, he's the godfather of this role and he's the one that made this role what it is today," Papelbon said of Rivera, who needed 382 games to hit the 200 saves mark.
"There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. [Trevor Hoffman] was great over in the National League but I think that this role has become what it is today because of that one man.
"I feel like I have a special relationship with him because of that simple fact that today I'm here because Mariano made this role what it is today. It doesn't matter that I did this in front of him or not. That's kind of out of the equation. I don't think I would've been able to do it without him making this role what it is."
Rivera, Hoffman, Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Thigpen and Troy Percival are all jumbled on the list of those who reached 200 with rapidity. Papelbon blew them all away, racing to the mark in 23 fewer games than Rivera, a rather sizable gap that speaks to the impressive resume the Boston closer has already produced.
The fact that he has done it all in the bright lights of Boston — which is similar to the highly charged enviroment Rivera pitches in — makes it that much more noteworthy.
That fact is not lost on the guy who has called upon Papelbon for each of those 200 saves.
"Good for him," said manager Terry Francona. "The thing that makes it even better is he came up through our system. That's a great accomplishment for him."
The milestone was reached just hours after Papelbon learned he would be suspended for three games because of his wild ejection Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park. He is appealing the decision, which allowed him to pitch on Tuesday. Although he did allow a run to the Yankees before closing the door, he insists that the disciplinary news had no impact on his performance, nor will it going forward.
That mindset is what has always stood out for Francona, who was asked if he wondered if the suspension would bother his closer.
"You hand him the ball, he's ready to pitch," Francona said. "I would never question that. Ever."
As for whether the historic moment will last for Papelbon, he says it will, but only temporarily.
"After it's all said and done, I'll think about this one a little tonight and then move forward," he said. "Just try to keep doing what I'm doing."
The Red Sox will be perfectly content with that.
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