Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
When living through the Jonathan Papelbon Era, this should be the mantra, with the last two days serving as the latest checkpoint. As hard as it is to fathom – especially after such history-making moments as came along in the Red Sox' 11-inning, 6-5 win over the Orioles in Baltimore on Wednesday – this ride has just begun.
If nothing else, the closer has a talent for keeping the conversation busy, as was evidenced Wednesday morning. Papelbon's perceived demise was enough to carry debates through another rainy morning, thanks to his second blown save of the season. But by the time dinner-time rolled around most concerns had been quieted.
Eighteen pitches – and one come-from-behind win for the Red Sox later – and Papelbon had reeled in the panic. Few were talking about his contributions to Tuesday night's collapse, instead choosing to revel in the franchise's best-ever security blanket.
The closer did what he has done better than any Red Sox reliever: he closed for the 133rd time, to be exact, which just so happens to be more than any other Sox player has done so ... ever.
Coming into Papelbon's 237th career regular season game, Bob Stanley had a share of that title of most proficient Red Sox save monger. But no more. The Red Sox' closer had his commemorative baseball (which he jammed in his equipment bag next to the ball that represented tying Stanley's mark), and the return of some peace of mind.
"Obviously, it feels good," Papelbon told reporters. "When I set out to do this -- to be the closer for the Boston Red Sox -- there was definitely a lot of goals in sight, and this was one of them. So to get there and to kind of finally get it and to kind of get it out of my head and stop thinking about it is definitely good for me."
When Stanley recorded that 133rd save – which came on May 5, 1989, when he fittingly got three straight ground outs by Scott Fletcher, Rafael Palmeiro and Ruben Sierra of the Texas Rangers – he was 34 years-old and found himself in the midst of a final major-league season.
The game-ending moment for Papelbon, however, is much, much closer to the beginning than the end. His story is still in the early chapters, as the last two days exemplified.
Yes, the four years Papelbon has lived the life of a major-league closer might have seemed like a lifetime for some. Why else would naysayers jump in to surmise that the 28-year-old's era of dominance had come and gone because he: a) is actually allowing baserunners this season; and b) was the unfortunate punctuation mark on the Sox' epic loss to the Orioles on Tuesday night?
But, as Papelbon's latest perception reversal reminded most, there's a long way to go when it comes to telling this story.
As we sit here right now, Papelbon has the identical strikeout-to-walk ratio (34 strikeouts, 17 walks) as his very first big-league season. Yet we all know how much has changed in the World of Pap since 2005. Obviously a lot would have had to transpire for a season involving 20 saves, a 1.80 ERA, and another likely All-Star invitation to spawn such concern.
A lot has happened in his relatively short career – postseason triumphs, monetary hub-bubs, medical ups and downs and a constant immersion into the Red Sox-Yankees dynamic. And in regards to all of it, more is sure to come.
This is the path Papelbon has ventured down, and (although it's sometimes hard to believe) it's one that has miles and miles and miles to go.
Here are five more (quick) things we learned as the Red Sox finally arrived back at Fenway Park close to 10 p.m. Wednesday night:
LUGO CAN STILL HIT
The focus will remain on Julio Lugo's fielding, and even the diminished burst of speed he might have left behind thanks to various leg injuries. But it is hard to argue that the shortstop should get credit for not only finding his batting stroke, but doing so under less-than-ideal circumstances.
This time the payoff for Lugo's continued offensive improvement was the game-winning single in the 11th, plating Jacoby Ellsbury. It was Lugo’s only at-bat of the game, after he came on as a pinch-runner during the Red Sox' four-run ninth inning. He now finds his average at .301.
"He's been good offensively," Francona told the Boston Herald. "That hasn't been why he hasn't played. But he hasn't thrown at-bats away, that's for sure. And today is a huge example of that."
So what does this mean for Lugo? Probably not much.
Maybe, if the Red Sox agree to pay a significant (and I do mean significant) amount of Lugo's $9 million a year contract (which has about $13.5 million left) a team could offer something in a trade. But whether it's through a deal, or release, such singles as the one notched Wednesday don't figure to change the dynamic of the Red Sox' shortstop position.
There was a reason why Nick Green started Wednesday: The Red Sox are now 39-22 when he is in the lineup. With Lugo, the record is 19-16.
Lugo's stay might be extended in the short-term because Jed Lowrie still has problems with the knee that was struck by a pitch more than a week ago. For the Sox, it certainly doesn't hurt that you have a backup shortstop who is coming off a month in which he hit .346 in 10 games.
Wednesday offered a brief glimpse as to what might have been, but even the player seems to understand that in the long run the picture probably will be changing in the not-so-distant future.
"I thought it would work, but that's not where we are," Lugo told The Herald. "But one thing I am not going to do is throw a log on the fire. It's just the way it is right now and I have to deal with it."
A TEMPERAMENT IS PUT TO THE TEST
Jason Bay struck out five times Wednesday, marking just the fifth time a Red Sox player has fanned that many times in a game, joining Phil Plantier, George Scott, Cecil Cooper and Ray Jarvis.
Bay finished the series in Baltimore 0-for-15 with nine strikeouts, and completed the road swing going 6-for-36. Bay's average stands at .262, having come off a month of June in which he hit .230.
For some, the blame for such a rut would be placed squarely on the pressure that comes with worrying about a contract year. Bay insists that is not the case. Or perhaps there was anxiety stemming from his grandfather's reaction to him becoming an American citizen, Thursday. Again, according to the player, not even an option.
And, because of the even-keeled nature that Bay has delivered throughout his life in Boston, those denials are all believable.
"It's not that I'm getting pitched any different or any tougher," Bay told the Boston Herald. "I'm completely getting myself out now. Timing-wise, I'm kind of in between. I can't hit the fastball, can't hit the breaking ball. It's just one of those situations where everything that could go wrong is going wrong. But we're winning games, too, so it at least helps deflect it a little bit.
"It's not the first time in my career that (he has gone through a slump), but it's probably the first time here. I try to be the same guy, not to get too high and try not to get too low. Obviously, when you're struggling, you tend to beat yourself up a little bit. When you're winning games, you tend to make light of it a little more. But what's done is done."
Here is where the outfielder has found himself on July 2 in previous years: 2008 -- .280; '07 -- .262; '06 -- .279; '05 -- .310; '04 -- .279. And in case you were wondering, Bay has identical batting average splits for the first and second half throughout his career.
FUENTES IN THE FOLD
The Red Sox signed their first-round pick, outfielder Reymond Fuentes, with our own Alex Speier reporting that the signing bonus is approximately $1.13 milion. The 18-year-old is expected to be assigned to Fort Myers of the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League.
For an extensive look at Fuentes and how he ended up with the Red Sox, check out Speier's fine story about the process that involved picking the Puerto Rican amateur.
But, as a reminder, this was the text message sent by former Red Sox, and Puerto Rico native, Alex Cora when it was learned that his countryman -- and cousin of Cora's Mets teammate Carlos Beltran -- had been tabbed by the Sox: "Beltran's cousin, Jacoby's clone. Saw him. He flies. Good level swing. Hard worker."
BECKETT HIT A BUMP IN THE ROAD
Josh Beckett started slowly, giving up five runs in the first four innings. That led us to these Gary Marbry stats:
- From May 16 through June 26, Beckett allowed a .160 batting average (13-81) and a .209 OBP during the first three innings of his starts.
- Wednesday was the fourth start this season (and 11th since the start of the 2007 season) in which Beckett allowed five or more hits through the first three innings. In the previous 10 such starts, the Sox are 3-7 and Beckett's ERA is 8.35 (55 innings, 51 ER). He lasted seven innings (exactly seven) in one of those previous 10 starts.
After his early-game struggles, Beckett went on to retire 12 straight, finishing with a respectable seven-inning outing, placing his ERA at 3.67. also paved the way for another outstanding performance by Marbry, who capped off his day with this:
Until Wednesday, the Red Sox were 0-34 since the beginning of 2008 when they came to bat in the eighth inning trailing by four or more runs.
That record now stands at 1-35, thanks to Wednesday’s epic comeback in Baltimore.