Papelbon slams the door

Papelbon slams the door

ARLINGTON -- Just three games into the season, Red Sox manager Terry Francona was by no means attempting to create a closer controversy Wednesday night at Ameriquest Field. All he was trying to do was win a game.

That mission was accomplished with someone other than closer Keith Foulke taking the ball in the ninth inning.

Francona determined that with an off-day looming on Thursday, Jonathan Papelbon and his powerful arm should not be wasted in reserve.

So, before the game, Francona decided that if starter Josh Beckett went seven innings, he'd use Mike Timlin in the eighth and Papelbon in the ninth. That was the exact scenario that unfolded, and Papelbon overpowered the Rangers for his first Major League save, closing out a 2-1 win for the Sox.

"We have a day off [Thursday] and we didn't want to not use a guy that's throwing as good as anybody," said Francona, who noted the Foulke has only pitched a few inning this spring while recovering from two knee surgeries. "I didn't want to have a day off tomorrow and have [Papelbon] not pitch in a game of consequence. You don't want to waste him. I told Foulkie that was what I was going to do."

And Foulke's response?

"The Sox won," said Foulke. "That's always my first concern. It's one of those deals where, [heck], when I get my stuff together and I go back and earn the spot, so be it. As long as we win, that's all that really matters."

There is no question that Foulke is under a tremendous amount of scrutiny to start the season. He struggled mightily last season, had surgery on both knees and was brought along slowly during Spring Training.

Foulke was brought in with a five-run lead in the ninth on Opening Day and gave up two hits and a run over one inning before being rescued by a brilliant catch from center fielder Coco Crisp.

"I definitely feel better than what I have in the past couple years, but it's still kind of fine-tuning," said Foulke. "The team comes first. We got to do what's important for the team, not for me."

Be it as a starter, a setup man or in occasional closing duty, the Red Sox simply want the ball in Papelbon's hand.

"He was electric," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "His ball had some serious giddy-up on it. He gave us a 1-2-3 [inning] and we were able to shut the door."

Slam it shut was more like it.

"Pap, I thought he was tremendous," said Francona. "Believe me, I don't do things like that on a spur of the moment. I try to put a lot of thought behind it. I have a lot of faith in that young man."

Papelbon didn't put any added pressure on himself just because it was a save situation.

"Take deep breaths, relax and just take it like another inning," he said.

As for Foulke, he says that he's not preoccupied with having a title. He's more concerned about pitching well.

"I tell you guys all the time -- I'm a bullpen guy," said Foulke. "I don't wake up in the morning and go to the grocery store and tell everybody I'm a closer. I'm here. I'm a Boston Red Sox. That's what I am. Go out there and win a World Series, that's all I'm here for."

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.