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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Send in the Bard!

You could practically see John Farrell chuckling in the Blue Jays dugout during the top of the ninth on Tuesday as Curt Young left the pitching mound alone.

No one takes Jonathan Papelbon out of a game. Farrell (with Pap below) didn't have the guts to do it when he was pitching coach, and neither does Young. In fact, Papelbon has not been taken out of a game without blowing a save since 2007.

Jonathan Papelbon under the watchful eye of Farrel, last year.
Now Papelbon technically didn't blow the game Tuesday, and he didn't blow it last night, either. Both times, however, he let runners cross the plate and put multiple players into scoring position. Tuesday was especially ugly and the rockiest save I have ever seen in my life. He lucked out on some fast fielding by Darnell McDonald, and the call of the home plate umpire who saw Edwin Encarnacion as out and not safe at home plate. From where I was, Encarnacion slid his leg past Jason Varitek before he was tagged, but that’s not how the umpire saw it. If the call had gone the other way, he would have two blown saves by now and not one.

Am I saying that I don't like Jonathan Papelbon? Not at all -- I think he's a superb closer. Last year was his worst so far, and he still only blew eight of his forty five opportunities.  But forty-five is the second-to-highest number of regular season save opportunities he's ever had. Maybe it’s time we started using him a bit less?

"Closer-in-Waiting" Dan Bard.
It's not that we need to use him less -- but rather, that we can. Why continue to pitch Papelbon in every single save situation when our “closer-in-waiting,” Dan Bard (at right), has matured to the point where he can assume some of the closer duties? 
Why waste a natural closer who can pitch upwards of 100 mph on the 8th inning? Why not share the 9th and not give Papelbon the opportunity to blow as many saves as last year. I would hate to hear people start booing when “Shipping Up to Boston” begins to play, lets save him from ever having to hear it, too.

As Boston fans, we are quick to jeer as soon as players we regularly follow with blind adoration begin to fail. If Big Papi is in a slump we call him “Big Pop Up.” When JD Drew isn't playing the way he could, or is suffering from injuries, we call him “Nancy.” As of yet, I haven't heard any word play regarding Papelbon's name, and honestly I can't think of anything clever that doesn't involve gynecology, which is even more reason why we should prevent this from ever happening.

Regardless of the player, once they begin to play well again, the familiar posters will return and flood the park. It doesn't matter how many times Ellsbury broke his ribs, the second he's back up in the majors the “Marry Me Jacoby!” signs resurface. As soon as Ortiz is slugging again, his pop ups are forgotten and the whole house is cheering. And sometimes, when he's playing well, we remember to say nice things about JD, too.

Like the song that plays three minutes after Papelbon successfully records a save, says:
“Don't blame us if we ever doubt you, you know we couldn't live without you...”

Red Sox fans are quick to see flaws in our players. So even for the sake of our fickle fanbase alone, we should give Jonathan Papelbon a few nights rest.

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