What began as an experiment may have led to the dawning of a new era in Boston. Papelbon has been all but unhittable for the contending Red Sox, allowing only three runs in 54 innings through Aug. 3. He is on pace to notch 42 saves, which would break Kazuhiro Sasaki's rookie record of 37 set in 2000.
2 of 16Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Just a year removed from the University of Texas, Street climbed rapidly through the A's system and became their closer nearly from the start of his major league career. He pitched 78 1/3 innings, striking out 72 and posting a 1.72 ERA to take home AL Rookie of the Year honors.
3 of 16John Biever/SI
He made the All-Star Game en route to a 27-save season for a Royals squad that shocked the baseball world by finishing with an 83-79 record.
4 of 16Robert Beck/SI
This was no ordinary rookie. At 32, Sasaki was the all-time saves leader in Japan before coming to Seattle on a two-year, $9.5 million contract. His transition to the majors was seamless as he recorded 37 saves and struck out 78 batters in 62 1/3 innings. He beat out Oakland's Terrence Long for AL Rookie of the Year honors.
5 of 16Jim Gund/SI
Manager Jack McKeon didn't use Williamson strictly as a closer, extending him for outings of two-plus innings on many occasions. The result was an all-around terrific season for Williamson: 12 wins, 19 saves, 93 1/3 IP, 107 Ks, a 2.41 ERA and the NL Rookie of the Year award. The Reds rode their ace reliever to within one game of a playoff berth.
6 of 16Al Tielemans/SI
He began his career with four consecutive seasons of 30-plus saves. As a rookie he saved 31 games, the sixth-highest total in the AL that season.
7 of 16Andy Lyons/Getty Images
With the career of closer Mark Wohlers hitting the skids, the Braves turned to Ligtenberg to take over as the closer. He helped them win what would be the seventh of 14 consecutive division titles by saving 30 games, striking out 79 batters in 73 innings and posting a 2.71 ERA. He has not saved more than 12 games in a season since.
8 of 16Tom Hauck/Getty Images
It was a long road to the majors for Loiselle, who was drafted in the 38th round by the Padres in 1991. When he did make it up, he made the experience count as he saved 29 games and posted a 3.10 ERA in 72 2/3 innings for a 79-win Pirates ball club.
9 of 16John Biever/SI
Olson, shown here with the 1995 Indians, was a key factor in the Orioles' amazing turnaround in 1989. The year before, Baltimore had finished 54-107 after starting the season 0-21. Olson became the workhorse out of the bullpen, saving 27 games and logging an impressive 85 innings with an ERA of 1.69. The Orioles won 87 games, just two fewer than first-place Toronto.
10 of 16Ronald C. Modra/SI
Technically, Worrell's rookie season was 1986, when he saved 36 games and tossed 103 2/3 innings. But by then he had already experienced a trial by fire as a key member of the Cardinals' bullpen during the 1985 postseason. He was the losing pitcher in the infamous Jorge Orta game (pictured), which forced a Game 7 that St. Louis lost to Kansas City.
11 of 16Chuck Solomon/SI
At 6-foot-5 and armed with a 95 mph fastball, Plesac was an imposing presence. He went 10-7 with 14 saves as a rookie and made the All-Star Game each of the next three seasons.
12 of 16T.G. Higgins/Getty Images
One of the true rubber-armed closers in history, McDowell gave the Mets 127 1/3 innings and tied for the team lead with 17 saves as a rookie. He would use his nasty sinker to contribute another 128 innings, 14 wins and 22 saves for the World Series-champion 1986 Mets.
13 of 16AP
This NL Rookie of the Year, shown here closing out the 1981 World Series, broke the club record for rookie saves with 17 and had an ERA of 2.66 in 84 2/3 innings.
14 of 16John Iacono/SI
Some would say Papelbon is a latter-day Radatz, who stood tall at 6-6 and relied almost completely on his devastating fastball. As a rookie, Radatz led the AL in appearances (62), saves (24) and relief wins (nine).
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This former Negro league pitcher broke into the majors at 28 and was an instant success, winning 14 games, saving 15 and claiming Rookie of the Year honors. He was so highly regarded that he was chosen to make three World Series starts against the Yankees that fall. His Game 1 victory was the first for a black pitcher in a World Series.
16 of 16Walter Iooss Jr./SI
Times certainly have changed: Wilhelm (shown here pitching for the 1967 White Sox) pitched so many innings out of the pen (159 1/3) that he qualified and won the league ERA crown despite not making a single start. He went 15-3 with 11 saves and a 2.43 ERA. The Hall of Fame knuckleballer also hit a home run in his first career at-bat.
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