Friday, April 13, 2007

the closer

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when Red Sox manager Terry Francona announced his decision to move Jonathan Papelbon back to the closer's role in which he pitched so admirably last season (4-2, 0.92 ERA, 35 saves). Papelbon is one of the game's best young pitchers, and I'd love to see what he could do in a full season as a starter. I'd rather see him pitch 200 innings in a season than the 60 or so that he's likely to pitch as a closer. And a starting rotation of Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Papelbon, and Tim Wakefield would be truly formidable. Having Papelbon in the rotation would also keep the team's token lunatic, Julian Tavarez (who was shelled in his first start), out of the rotation.

But it's been impressive to watch Papelbon as a closer so far this season. He's struck out six of the first ten batters he's faced, and he hasn't yet allowed a baserunner. He entered tonight's game against the Los Angeles Angels in the eighth inning with one out and runners on first and third, and he completely overpowered star right fielder Vladimir Guerrero with fastballs for a strikeout before getting Garret Anderson to line out to Manny Ramirez in left field. The Red Sox piled on six runs in the bottom of the inning, meaning that Papelbon didn't need to come out for the ninth; Mike Timlin mopped up the 10-1 victory. So far, I can't really question Francona's judgment.

Papelbon has the quintessential closer's mentality. He sprints in from the bullpen, and when he gets to the mound, he stares down the hitter with the nastiest baby-faced glare you ever saw. He throws 97-miles-per-hour heat. He's our closer. No doubt about it any more.

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