When Boston won it all in 2004, Keith Foulke was the man with the knack for closing the deal. Now, there's a new kid at Fenway Park who has shown through the first month of the season that he can give Red Sox fans a calming sense of relief.
After posting a 10-for-10 save worksheet in April, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was named the American League Rookie of the Month on Tuesday.
In 13 relief appearances, the 25-year-old Papelbon dominated with 14 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball while striking out 14 and walking just two. He finished the month as the Major League leader in saves and was a runner-up to Jose Contreras for AL Pitcher of the Month.
"It's good to get accolades like that," Papelbon said. "Obviously, AL Rookie of the Month is pretty cool, and I'm excited and proud to get that honor. I just want to keep it coming."
Papelbon had the opportunity to gain some AL experience last year when the Red Sox used him in a variety of roles. He finished the year 3-1 with a 2.65 ERA over 34 innings, and he came into this season looking to build on that foundation.
Papelbon has done that in grand style while recording a strikeout in all but two of his appearances. It marks the second time in three years a Red Sox player has captured a Rookie of the Month award. Kevin Youkilis received that honor in 2004.
Boston manager Terry Francona fully appreciates what Papelbon has meant to the Boston bullpen after being thrown into the pressure-cooker.
"He has given our bullpen just a great lift," Francona said.
Francona said Papelbon's contributions go far beyond the save numbers. Largely because of Papelbon's consistency, Francona has been able to arrange the back end of his bullpen in a manner that helped the Red Sox begin play on Tuesday with a one-game lead in the American League East standings.
"More than Pap just saving games, it has allowed [Mike] Timlin to pitch consistently where he is supposed to and it has really freed us up to have Foulke face more left-handers than he would have if he was in just a certain role," Francona said. "That has really helped a lot."
Other AL rookies who made an impact in April were: Seattle catcher Kenji Johjima (.267, two homers, 12 RBIs); Detroit starter Justin Verlander (3-2, 3.52 ERA) and Texas starter John Koronka (3-1, 4.25 ERA).
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.