Skip to content

Jonathan Papelbon on 300th save: “It means a lot to me”

Jun 11, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT

It was a long time between save opportunities for the PhilliesJonathan Papelbon. Since May 24 Papelbon really had no need to warm up for the ninth inning, since there were no games to save.

Maybe that’s why he decided to let Tuesday’s night’s chance against the San Diego Padres linger a little longer than he should have. Entering the ninth with a three-run lead, Papelbon loaded the bases with two outs before finally closing it down with a ground ball by Tommy Medica (see game recap).

No harm, no foul.

And with that tightrope act, Papelbon became the 26th pitcher in big-league history to register 300 saves. Moreover, he did it in fewer games than anyone except for Trevor Hoffman.

Fittingly, Papelbon got No. 300 against Hoffman’s former team.

Nevertheless, Papelbon’s journey to 300 saves wasn’t exactly quixotic, though it wasn’t without its detours. A starter in the minors, Papelbon successfully lobbied Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein to move him to the closer role.

Perhaps closing games is what has kept Papelbon off the disabled list for his entire 10 years in the big leagues.

“It means a lot to me, more than what most people would probably think,” Papelbon said after escaping with his 14th save of the season. “I started this a long time ago and I was supposed to be a starter. Theo Epstein wanted to make me a starter and I told him I didn’t want to be a starter. It’s been a long journey since then. I don’t know how happy he was when I told him I wanted to do that, but it’s all turned out the way I expected it and hoped it would. I got to keep working hard and keep putting in the work to stay healthy and hopefully try to get another 300 if I stay healthy.”

In Phillies history, closers have been more like Haley’s Comet than Old Faithful. Jose Mesa has the franchise record with 112 saves, notching 87 of them in his first two seasons with the team. Brad Lidge left Philly with 100 saves and 41 of them came during that magical 2008 season.

With 81 saves in a little more than two seasons and a contract that runs through 2015 with a vesting option for 2016, Papelbon could blow past Mesa’s record. Considering Papelbon’s ability to stay off the disabled list, there’s no reason why he can’t match Hoffman’s mark of 601 saves. After all, Hoffman got all but 10 of his saves in 14 of his 18 seasons and missed nearly all of the 2003 season on the disabled list.

Though Papelbon has lost a little off his fastball and he struggled in Tuesday’s game, he has converted all but one of his save chances this season. Better yet, Papelbon has posted a 1.48 ERA and has 12 1-2-3 innings in his 25 appearances.

Despite this, Papelbon’s strikeout rate is at a career low and his walk rate has doubled since last season. However, Papelbon has allowed just two extra-base hits this season and has held the opposition to a .195 batting average. Even at the start of his career when he was taking over the role as closer for the Red Sox, Papelbon only held opponents to a lower batting average just once.

So how does he stay healthy and convert saves even though his fastball isn’t as sharp?

Easy. It’s all upstairs, Papelbon said.

“It’s a mental grind and you have to stay focused the best you can,” Papelbon said. “There is no way to really duplicate a game-on-the-line type situation, but for me I just try to stay focused. It’s more mental than physical.

“That’s one of the main reasons why I decided to become a closer. I don’t know why, but I like the rollercoaster ride and it is what it is. I like coming to the yard every day knowing I have a chance to go in there or not. It’s hard to explain.”

It also helps that the closer’s role is much more refined than it once was. Papelbon, Hoffman and the all-time saves leader, Mariano Rivera, rarely pitch more than one inning. Bruce Sutter, the Hall of Fame pitcher who finished his career with 300 saves in 12 seasons, rarely worked so little. In fact, in his 661 games, Sutter pitched more than one inning 407 times.

In 1984, Sutter appeared in a career-high 71 games and pitched 122 innings. Papelbon got to 131 innings in his first 131 games with the Phillies.

For that, Papelbon gave praise to Rivera for redefining the role and allowing pitchers like himself to save more games and have longer careers.

“The closer’s role is what it is today because of Mariano Rivera. There is no other man that is solely responsible for it but him,” Papelbon said. “In my opinion, he made the role what it is today and I’ve told him many a time that he’s the godfather of all closers. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be in this type of situation today. When I was in Boston, I used to joke with him all the time. He’d come back for another year and play and it seemed like he had some kind of fountain of youth over there in Panama. He made it harder and harder for me every year. Everyone’s chasing him, so hopefully one day I can get somewhere close to him and we’ll see what happens if I can stay healthy.”

It’s worth noting that Mesa ceded the closer’s role to Mike Williams at the end of his tenure in Philadelphia. And Lidge gave way to Ryan Madson at the end of his time in town. Working on his third season, Papelbon isn’t looking over his shoulder yet.

Latest Posts
  1. Ichiro compares being a free agent to being a puppy in a pet shop

    Mar 28, 2015, 11:25 PM EDT

    Ichiro Suzuki Ichiro Suzuki

    Let Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki tell you how being a free agent is like being a puppy in a pet shop.

  2. Mariners prospect Victor Sanchez has died

    Mar 28, 2015, 10:35 PM EDT

    mariners logo

    Promising Mariners pitching prospect Victor Sanchez died on Saturday night after he was involved in an unfortunate boating accident in February.

  3. Nate Schierholtz opts out of contract with the Rangers

    Mar 28, 2015, 10:10 PM EDT

    Nate Schierholtz Nate Schierholtz

    Outfielder Nate Schierholtz is a free agent again, opting out of his contract with the Rangers after a disappointing spring showing.

  4. Videos: Young talent on display as Bryce Harper homers and Mike Trout robs a homer

    Mar 28, 2015, 9:05 PM EDT

    Mike Trout Mike Trout

    Two baseball superstars put their talented display in spring training action on Saturday afternoon.

  5. Jaime Garcia scratched from Sunday start due to shoulder setback

    Mar 28, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT

    Jaime Garcia Jaime Garcia

    More shoulder problems for Jaime Garcia, who has made 16 combined starts since the beginning of the 2013 season.

  6. The Shane Victorino saga with Boston radio personalities continues

    Mar 28, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT

    Shane Victorino Shane Victorino

    Shane Victorino didn’t like the way a pair of radio personalities in Boston interpreted his desire to see the Red Sox acquire Cole Hamels from the Phillies.

  7. Giants catcher Matt Paré talks about the not-so-glamorous life in the minor leagues

    Mar 28, 2015, 6:25 PM EDT

    giants logo

    Giants minor league catcher Matt Paré discussed the thrifty lifestyles minor league players are forced into.

  8. Video: Alex Rodriguez connects for his third home run of the spring

    Mar 28, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT

    Alex Rodriguez AP AP

    Rodriguez is now batting .306 (11-for-36) with three home runs, a double and a .925 OPS across 15 games this spring.

  9. Report: Mets talking contract extension with Lucas Duda

    Mar 28, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT

    Lucas Duda AP

    Lucas Duda is coming off a breakout year with the Mets and the two sides are now discussing a contract extension.

  10. Didi Gregorius suffers left wrist sprain, X-rays come back negative

    Mar 28, 2015, 4:13 PM EDT

    Travis d'Arnaud, Didi Gregorius AP

    Gregorius injured his wrist Saturday while trying to dive for a ground ball in the second inning.

  11. Felix Doubront granted his release by the Cubs

    Mar 28, 2015, 3:40 PM EDT

    Los Angeles Dodgers v Chicago Cubs Getty Images

    Doubront really struggled during Cactus League action, allowing nine runs on 17 hits (including two home runs) in seven innings across four appearances.

  12. Rangers acquire left-hander Sam Freeman from Cardinals

    Mar 28, 2015, 2:51 PM EDT

    Sam Freeman Getty Getty Images

    Freeman owns a 3.33 ERA with a 61/34 K/BB ratio over 70 1/3 innings in the majors.

  13. J.J. Hardy to undergo MRA on ailing shoulder

    Mar 28, 2015, 2:15 PM EDT

    St. Louis Cardinals v Baltimore Orioles Getty Images

    The Orioles will already be without Matt Wieters on Opening Day as he makes his way back from Tommy John surgery and now suddenly J.J. Hardy’s status is also in question.

  14. Angels release veteran reliever Matt Lindstrom

    Mar 28, 2015, 1:32 PM EDT

    Matt Lindstrom Getty Getty Images

    Lindstrom, who was in camp this spring on a minor league contract, posted an ugly 11.12 ERA and 5/4 K/BB ratio over 5 2/3 innings during Cactus League action.

  15. Twins prospect Lewis Thorpe to undergo Tommy John surgery

    Mar 28, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT

    Twins logo

    Thorpe, 19, owns a 2.80 ERA and 179/54 K/BB ratio over his first 157 2/3 innings in pro ball.

  16. Video: Yordano Ventura throws seven no-hit innings in Cactus League start

    Mar 28, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Yordano Ventura AP AP

    Yordano Ventura was recently named as the Royals’ Opening Day starter and he had a heck of a tuneup in his latest Cactus League outing last night.

  17. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos watched Jonathan Papelbon pitch Friday

    Mar 28, 2015, 11:01 AM EDT

    Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon

    Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon said last month that he would be interested in a trade to the Blue Jays and it appears that the possibility might still have some legs.

  18. Mike Pelfrey not happy about move to bullpen

    Mar 28, 2015, 10:11 AM EDT

    Mike Pelfrey AP AP

    Pelfrey owns an ugly 5.56 ERA in 34 starts dating back to 2013.

  19. Christian Vazquez says he’s nervous about his elbow

    Mar 28, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT

    25b0e49ab484f722bc9e41439c67a5e8 Getty Images

    An MRI showed “something” in Christian Vazquez’s right elbow.

  20. Carlos Gonzalez exits game with soreness in surgically-repaired knee

    Mar 28, 2015, 8:57 AM EDT

    Colorado Rockies Photo Day Getty Images

    This isn’t what you want to hear with the start of the season just one week away.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. H. Olivera (3728)
  2. J. Fernandez (3555)
  3. K. Bryant (3333)
  4. J. Kipnis (3214)
  5. C. Rodon (3211)
  1. S. Doolittle (3200)
  2. Y. Tomas (3163)
  3. H. Ryu (3103)
  4. A. Cobb (3067)
  5. G. Richards (3056)