This Boston baseball season has been tumultuous. The Red Sox have enjoyed and suffered through alternate stretches of great and terrible baseball.
We never seem to know if they are in the hunt for a playoff sport or if this is a dreaded "bridge" season.
Now they have a full-blown closer controversy.
A closer controversy is not unlike a quarterback controversy. You know the drill: veteran star struggles... kid steps in and makes everything look easy... fans want to kick the old guy to the curb and go with the young gun.
Say hello to
Papelbon is only 29 (he turns 30 in November), but he has been Boston's stud closer for five seasons. He converted 113 of`127 save opportunities in his first three seasons. He's the franchise's all-time saves leader, with more than 29 in each of his last five seasons. He closed out a World Series for the Red Sox in 2007. He has been an All-Star. There was a time when he had the lowest ERA in the history of baseball. He pitched shutout ball in the first 26.1 innings of his postseason life, a career-starting October scoreless string exceeded only by
Despite all of the above, there's a conga-line of Sox fans ready to take the ball out of Papelbon's hands and entrust the Sox closer role to the 25-year-old Bard.
Bard, who's right-handed like Papelbon, looks the part. He's tall, rangy, has great hair and throws 100 miles an hour. Just four years out of the University of North Carolina, Bard is a classic flamethrower with unusual control and command.
Pitching predominantly in eighth-inning situations, Bard is 1-2 with a 2.01 ERA this year. He has 57 strikeouts and 18 walks in 53.2 innings. He has given up five homers.
Papelbon, meanwhile, is 4-5 with a career-high 3.20 ERA. His WHIP is on the rise. He's allowing more homers and walks and isn't striking out as many batters. He has blown six saves, including a memorable flameout in Toronto last Thursday when he couldn't protect a two-run lead. Papelbon allowed three earned runs in the ninth of that horrible loss, and after the game manager
Unfortunately for Papelbon, he imploded in Toronto just three days after Bard enjoyed a career-defining moment in Yankee Stadium.
Last Monday in the Bronx, Bard was summoned to face
Fans conveniently forget that one inning later Bard surrendered a monstrous home run to
Much of this sentiment started last October, when Papelbon set himself on fire in the third and final playoff game against the Angels.
Papelbon had a 6-4 lead with two out and nobody aboard in the ninth, then surrendered three runs on a hail of hits and walks. He abandoned his splitter and threw only fastballs. It was the last hurrah for the 2009 Red Sox and convinced much of the fandom to say goodbye to the Big Galoot with the gaudy resume.
Not me. If I'm Francona or GM
Papelbon is sufficiently goofy for the job. Last winter he looped the ALDS video and forced himself to watch the car wreck over and over while he did his workouts. He said it motivated him.
That's accountability. That's a guy who you want closing the big games for you.