FULL DISCLOSURE: There is only one player in the history of the Boston Red Sox organization who is exactly as old as I am. On November 23, 2011, both Jonathan Robert Papelbon and I will turn 31 years old. There’s a lot that happens when a man descends “into his thirties” in the way that becomes so stark that you have to scrawl the numerals “three” and “one” onto forms, at, say, a doctor’s office like I did today. Most of those things involve catching chlamydia and telling your mother that you’re totally going to give her grandkinds eventually. Me and Paps? We’re brothers in arms. And if that’s a pun, it’s not one I’m clever enough to have come up with while I meant it. Or one that has to do with manufacturing children. At least as much as I know.
To me, he’ll always be Pap. The funny part of all of this is that Pap’s pro career began with a phone call. It wasn’t from the Red Sox, as many seem to remember. It was – and you’ll think I’m making this up, but I am no more making this up than DANCING QUEEN is Abba’s greatest song – a call from the Philadelphia Phillies. I am not a writer by trade, and I am lazy and drunk, so I’ll let Wikipedia tell the tale:
“Papelbon was drafted in the 4th round in 2003, a year after the Oakland Athletics picked him in the 40th round. He did not sign with Oakland because he wanted one more year in college to pitch and a chance to get to the College World Series, which his team failed to do.The Philadelphia Phillies had called him in round six to ask if he would sign if they drafted him, but he rejected the offer. Finally, the Red Sox drafted him the next year in the third round.”
It’s on Wikipedia, CITATION NEEDED no less, so you know it’s true. But that, as far as the internet knows, is how Jonathan Papelbon came into our lives. Inauspiciously, which is fortuitous. I’m not just spitting consonants and vowels like a bad Mike Tyson joke, though. It’s true. His inauspicious start with the Red Sox organization would eventually give way to an inauspicious end, when he would walk off the mound at the end of the 162nd game of the 2011 campaign wondering, as we all did, just how the hell he allowed two doubles and a single against the Baltimore Orioles, of all teams, kill a season that started with so much promise.
The trick, like a good whoopee pie, lied in the middle. (NOTE: The other trick to a good whoopee pie is to imagine that you are a character on THE NEWLYWED GAME who responded, “The butt, Bob,” while you eat it.)
In between that phone call and the end of his time in the Hub lies the career of the career of the greatest reliever in the history of the Boston Red Sox. Not everyone may agree with me, and there’s a well-tanned man with some serious moss in Cooperstown who might disagree, but that’s fine. I’ll leave the sabermetrics to people who jerk it into copies of MONEYBALL. I know what I saw, and I saw a man who, despite a rough season and change, spent the better part of a decade staring down batters with a Jon Lithgow overbite and a will to dominate. And so he did. His numbers speak for themselves, but perhaps most tellingly, in 2011, after a down 2010, Papelbon converted 31 of 34 save opportunities and had a 2.33 ERA.
Numerically, he was one third of John Lackey in terms of runs credited to the team per inning pitched, yet he made almost 25% less while appearing for far fewer innings. On top of that, by all accounts, Pap ate a good 75% less fried chicken than Mr. Lackey. Functionally, he was the Milton to Lackey’s (or Dice-K, if you wanna go all Beyonce and put a ring on it) Peter Gibbons in OFFICE SPACE, and that might be charitable. Given the Ryan Reynolds-post GREEN LANTERN trouncing the Sox pitching staff received this offseason, can you blame him when, without letting new GM Ben Cherington make a counter offer, he burnt his relationship with the Red Sox to the ground? I don’t know that I can.
But I’ll tell you what I do know. I know that he Boston Red Sox could not afford to give Papelbon the kind of money he’ll be making (and, in two years, mark my words, wasting) in Philadelphia. I know that there are options on the market. I know that in two seasons, it will be business as usual for the Nation. (NOTE: If I owe John Henry money for using that phrase, he can come take it from my cold, dead wallet. I’ll be sure to buy a brick to commemorate the occasion.)
But I also know this. In August, I, a Midwesterner, was in Boston for the three game stretch with the Yankees. And in that second game, I was there for the call to the bullpen. From the right field bleachers, amongst the true (and drunker than Ronnie from JERSEY SHORE on day four of a “SAMMIE DOESN’T LOVE ME” bender, which included me) fans, I heard it. For the first time in my life, I was in Boston, my feet cemented to the Fens, my liver three-quarters of the way to Mass Gen, I heard it.
DUN UN. DUN UN.
I have lived a long life. I have seen many things. But I will always remember where I was the first time that I felt Fenway explode when Dropkick Murphys’ “Shipping Up To Boston” reigned down upon the drunken Faithful. It is unlike anything I have ever experienced, and I say that with due and loving respect to every young woman with whom I have ever shared a pillow or the sidewall of a stall in a Burger King bathroom. When Tito called the ‘pen, and Papelbon entered the game, the world, as well as the Nation, changed to the tune of Irish punk. So did the Yankees.
That night, the save was recorded.
On November 23, 2011, Jonathan Papelbon and I will turn 31. For the first time in nearly a decade, Pap and I won’t make a major move together. I’ll miss it, and I’ll miss him. But I know this. When I next look toward the future, with the luck of a good oral surgeon, I won’t have that Jon Lithgow bite while I do it. In its place, I’ll just have the memories.
This guest post was brought to you by Kevin Meyers. You can follow him on the twitter at @redsoxredshoes where he makes the #redsox world a little lighter daily.