But it happened Thursday afternoon, serving as a symbolic moment that took place during a jarring 6-5 loss to the Blue Jays.
"We had one of the best closers in the game out there," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "They took some good swings. It's the first time I've seen Pap coming out in the ninth inning as long as I've been here."
It had been a feel-good day for the Sox when the bottom of the ninth inning began with John Lackey out there in search of his first complete game of the season.
But Jose Bautista, the Major League leader in home runs, led off with a solo shot -- his 36th -- to cut Boston's lead to 5-3. That prompted manager Terry Francona to call on Papelbon.
"[Lackey] gave up a home run to lead off the inning," said Francona. "That's normally what we do -- go to Pap."
And most of the time, that works. But not on this day, as Papelbon took the blown save -- his sixth in 35 opportunities this season. He also took the loss.
What was Papelbon's major problem?
"Leaving the ball up in the zone," Papelbon said. "It just seemed every one of my pitches today was up in the zone in a pressure situation, and obviously, that can't happen."
By the time Papelbon came out, not only was the game tied, but the bases were loaded with one out, leaving Daniel Bard in a near impossible situation. Fred Lewis made solid enough contact to deliver a walk-off sacrifice fly to center.
"I think he grounds it out half the time," said Bard. "It's definitely where I wanted it. It's almost impossible, but I got out of it the other day [in New York]. It wasn't the ninth, so that's the difference. There's no room for error there at all."
A win would have given the Sox a three-game sweep in Toronto and sliced Tampa Bay's lead to three games in the American League Wild Card standings. Instead, the Red Sox are four games back entering a three-game weekend series against the AL West-leading Rangers in Arlington.
Handing the ball off to Bard was strange to Papelbon. Usually it's the other way around.
"You want to finish games -- that's my job," said Papelbon. "I want to finish games. But I think the fact of the matter is that I didn't execute my job, and you pass it on to somebody else."
For Papelbon, who has pitched well of late, things went sour from the start. Vernon Wells greeted the righty with a double to right. Adam Lind followed with an RBI single up the middle that made it a one-run game. Aaron Hill then belted a crisp grounder off Papelbon's left foot. After the ball caromed away, Papelbon didn't know where it was, and the single put runners at the corners with nobody out.
Papelbon got an initial reprieve, striking out Travis Snider. But Edwin Encarnacion got momentum right back for the Blue Jays, clubbing a double down the line in left to tie the game. With runners on second and third, Papelbon intentionally walked Lyle Overbay.
Just like that, his day was over.
"I didn't have much power or energy in my delivery today," said Papelbon. "It was just kind of a groggy day for me."
For Lackey, it was a pretty good day. He went eight-plus innings, allowing eight hits and three runs, walking one and striking out four.
"I threw the ball well, but we didn't win," said Lackey. "I still felt pretty strong, for sure, but we've got a good closer, so I mean it's tough to argue."
When the Jays crossed the plate with the walk-off run, it was the only time Boston trailed for the entire three-game series.
The Red Sox struck first when they rallied in the top of the third. Jacoby Ellsbury started it with a single to center. Jed Lowrie followed with a walk. And the Red Sox then utilized the running game, getting a double steal that pushed runners to second and third with nobody out. Victor Martinez broke the scoreless tie with a sacrifice fly and Ortiz clubbed an RBI single off the wall in right.
Lackey was in a good groove for most of the day. Even when the Jays scored, the righty minimized the damage. Toronto opened the fourth with a walk and a single, putting runners at the corners with nobody out. The only run they got came on a double-play ball by Lind.
But the Red Sox got that run right back, and then some. Lowrie smoked his first homer of the season, a solo shot over the wall in center. Two batters later, Ortiz belted a homer to right, No. 25 on the season, to give his team a 4-1 lead. That gave Ortiz seven seasons of 25 homers or more for Boston, tying Jim Rice for second on the club's all-time list. Ted Williams hit 25-plus homers 14 times.
"Not bad, huh?" quipped Ortiz.
Again, the Jays tried to chip away at Lackey in the sixth, putting runners at the corners with nobody out. This time it was Bautista who hit into a double play to bring a run home.
"They had first and third twice, and he got a first-pitch double play twice," Francona said. "Give them the run and get off the field. That's about as professionally done as you can do it. Rather than start picking or create a mess, get the outs and get off the field. That was good to watch."
Darnell McDonald gave Boston what it hoped was a key insurance run in the eighth, an RBI triple that scored Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- the catcher who had two doubles in his starting debut for the Red Sox.
But on this day, a three-run lead was not enough.
Francona was confident the Red Sox would shake the stinging loss off even before they cleared customs.
"We better," Francona said. "It better not linger. I don't think we want anything [to linger] when we win or lose. We get on and move on. That would not be a good way to play the game."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.