Saturday, June 14, 2008

Game 71: Blown Saves and Great Closers

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Cincinnati Red 4

Does it hurt you when Jonathan Papelbon blows a save the way it hurts me? Because it should. Third blown save of the year, thirteenth of his career; that's a lot of hurting that no one wants to have. But why does it bother me so, particularly when it's a meaningless statistic in a game that the Sox eventually won with a pair of home runs in the tenth inning? I believe - for me, anyway - it all goes back to an inferiority complex ground into me in the late 1990s.

Who is the greatest closer of our generation; one of the greatest closers of all time? Mariano Rivera, the ace in the hole, the machine, the bug bear of so many missed chances against the Yankees, coming in to slam a door that had seemed to swing open for a momentary opportunity. Jesus, this sounds like an epitaph. Anyway, without Rivera, the current generation of the Yankees / Red Sox rivalry wouldn't exist. Nothing new there, but since that generation started during my formative years, I've always wanted a Red Sox answer to the enigma of Rivera.

Fortunately, we've got one - or I like to kid myself into thinking we've got one. The Era of Papelbon is well established, and barring injury or accident or phenomenal decrease in powers, he'll be enshrined as one of the most terrifying pitchers to face when the game gets close and late: walks and hits together don't even come close to equaling total innings, runs per inning is totaled in tiny fractions, and it isn't a game if Paps doesn't strike someone out. And those are just numbers: throw in the legend of Cinco Ocho and a mystique grows. But the mystique is so fragile...and every time he blows a save, I get a little shaky. But I still have faith every time he comes out to the mound, so we're cool. Even Mariano's blown a few in his day, no?