10/06/09 9:10 PM EST
Papelbon looks to pad October legacy
Sox closer yet to be scored upon during postseason play
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
Papelbon's postseason resume spells out dominance. In 16 career games, he has logged 25 scoreless innings. The right-hander barely allows a baserunner. He has yielded 10 hits and walked six while striking out 22.Don't think for a second that he isn't aware of the fact his ERA reads zeros. What does being unscored upon mean to the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder?
"A lot," he says bluntly. "That's a near and dear thing to me, for sure."Papelbon looks to build on his legacy in the American League Division Series when the Red Sox take on the Angels beginning at 9:37 p.m. ET on Thursday in Anaheim. In his fifth big league season, he's in the postseason for the fourth time. He experienced a championship in 2007, when he was 4-for-4 in save chances. To him, this isn't the time of year to rest on his laurels. "No. Lots more to do. Lots more to do," he said. "I've only got one ring. I want more jewelry." Every time he takes the mound in the playoffs, Papelbon is putting history on the line. Need validation of where he stands? Consider in the history of Major League Baseball, of everyone with 15 or more innings pitched in the playoffs, Papelbon has gone the longest without yielding an earned run. John Rocker threw 20 2/3 innings with a 0.00 ERA. The controversial former Braves left-hander did allow two unearned runs. Joe Niekro, meanwhile, went 20 innings with a 0.00 ERA. In all, six pitchers in playoff history with at least 15 innings have not allowed an earned run, but none of them tossed as many innings as Papelbon. "In the postseason, he's been superhuman," Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell said. "I think he's an elite guy. Again, he's another guy, I don't think the situation is too big for him. I think he actually thrives in that situation a little bit.
ZERO HOUR FOR PAPELBON
"He actually likes having that attention on him. I think that's a good quality to have when you're a closer. But he performs as well. You can have all those qualities but you still have to have that ability, and I think he does that very well."Papelbon's postseason statistics speak for themselves, but they pretty much are a reflection of what he's done over the course of the season. In 66 games this year, he tallied a 1.85 ERA, while collecting 38 saves in 41 opportunities. "I love pressure; pressure is what I thrive on," Papelbon said. "It's the reason I went back to closing. It's what gets me going." What's encouraging for the Red Sox is Papelbon is entering the postseason riding high. Since the All-Star break, he has saved 15 of 16, while giving up six earned runs (seven total) in 29 appearances. "I feel stronger than I have entering any other postseason before, even '07," he said. "For me, my last few outings I was able to come in, do my job and get out and not have to break down the body. For me, I feel very strong going into the postseason." The scoreless streak is something Billy Wagner marvels about. A longtime closer himself, Wagner now is in a setup role in the Boston bullpen. "It says he's pretty darn good," Wagner said of his teammate's postseason numbers. "That's pretty self-explanatory when you go out and pitch as many playoff games as he has, and been that dominant. His legacy is being built, and he's done a great job." An intimidating presence, Papelbon prides himself on keeping hitters off base. In fact, the hard-throwing right-hander is allowing on average 5.76 baserunners per nine innings, the third-lowest total in the postseason among pitchers with at least 15 innings. "He's probably one of the most intense guys I've ever met as a closer," Wagner said. "All the other guys that I've met, the [John] Francos and [Trevor] Hoffmans, you get more of that laid back, 'Hey, I'm under control.' He goes out there and he wears it on his sleeve. What he feels, he says. He backs it up. As long as you can back it up, you ain't got much to worry about."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.