stuff i missedLast weekend, The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jim Salisbury talked about Papelbon:
Closers are one of the most valuable commodities in major league baseball, and because of that, a lot of teams are kicking themselves for not taking a chance on Jonathan Papelbon three years ago.
Papelbon pitched in high school but was recruited by Mississippi State as a first baseman. When he arrived, coaches were impressed with his arm in the infield and asked whether he'd do some pitching. In time, he blossomed into the Southeastern Conference's top reliever.
Still, teams weren't sold on Papelbon. He wasn't drafted until the fourth round in 2003 -- 114th overall, 29 spots after the Phillies chose Texas second baseman Tim Mosswith their first pick.
The Boston Red Sox used their sixth pick in that draft to get Papelbon, and they're sure glad they did. At 25, he is sharing the spotlight with Detroit's Chris Sheltonand Baltimore's Chris Ray as relative unknowns who have suddenly become big-time contributors in the American League.
Shelton, a 33d-round pick by the Pirates in 2001, was left unprotected after the 2003 season. The Tigers scooped him up for $50,000, and he was leading the AL in batting average and homers and was tied with Vernon Wells for the league lead in RBIs entering last night.
The 24-year-old Ray, a third-round draft pick in 2003, is six for six in saves.
Entering last night, Papelbon stood atop the majors' save chart with seven. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound, hard-throwing righthander hasn't allowed a run in his first nine games and has become a fan favorite in baseball-mad Boston.
Papelbon was used mostly as a starter in the minors and mostly as a reliever during an impressive two-month stint with the Red Sox last season. Manager Terry Francona wasn't sure how he would use Papelbon coming into this season.
"I knew the kid was special," Francona said by phone the other day. "I just wanted to make sure he was a weapon."
A deep rotation, led by healthy and dominatingCurt Schillingand overpowering newcomer Josh Beckett, pushed Papelbon to the bullpen. He pitched a perfect eighth inning in an opening-day win at Texas, then closed out a victory in Game 3.
Francona is reluctant to say it, but Papelbon, at least for now, has usurpedKeith Foulke's closer role. Foulke was a standout on the 2004 World Series championship team, but struggled with a knee injury and ineffectiveness last season.
If the Red Sox had a question mark coming into the season, it was closer. Papelbon erased it.
"I wasn't really concerned about closer because I have a lot of confidence in Foulke," Francona said. "But I knew if he had a problem, we had Papelbon and (Mike) Timlin. Papelbon was sort of our wild card.
"Everyone thinks he'll eventually be a starter, and whatever he does he'll be good at. But I love him in this role. He pounds the strike zone with good stuff. The game doesn't quicken up for him like it does for a lot of young kids in this role. He doesn't get flustered and, like Schilling, he pitches off adrenaline."
The Red Sox won 11 of their first 18 games in racing out to the lead in the rugged AL East. They have all the pieces needed to stay there all season.David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez make up one of the most feared slugging combinations in the game. Beckett and Schilling are a dominant 1-2 punch atop the rotation.
And, three weeks into the season, Papelbon appears to be the dominant closer the Red Sox lacked last season.
Twenty-nine other teams wish they had picked him.
From the AP, as seen on SI.com last weekend:
Papelbon emerges as Red Sox closer.
Is he Jon or Jonathan? A starter or a closer? A pitcher who craves strikeouts or just any kind of out?
For Boston's newest mound sensation, none of that really matters.