This year is different.
"I feel like I've got my legs, I've got my arms and less headaches," said Papelbon, who had notched 36 saves with an eye-popping 13.34 strikeouts per nine innings heading into the final week of 2007. "Last year was a grind for me. I really grinded and grinded until I couldn't grind any more, and this year, I'm knowing my body and the system better."
The "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Month Award" winner is selected by a special MLB "yellow-ribbon" panel that includes Mike Bauman, national columnist for MLB.com; nine-time All-Star reliever Rich "Goose" Gossage; former outfielder Darryl Hamilton, now a member of the MLB On-Field Operations staff; official MLB Historian Jerome Holtzman, also in the writer's wing of the Hall of Fame; and Bob Watson, Vice President of On-Field Operations for Major League Baseball.
At the conclusion of the season, fans will determine which relief pitcher enjoyed the best overall season and deserves the third-annual "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year Award." A list of finalists has been selected according to statistical qualifiers, and fans will be able to vote for the winner online at MLB.com, the official Web site of Major League Baseball. The "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year Award" will be presented during the postseason.
The finalists are: St. Louis' Jason Isringhausen, Milwaukee's Francisco Cordero, Arizona's Jose Valverde, Los Angeles' Takashi Saito and San Diego's Trevor Hoffman from the National League; and Seattle's J.J. Putz, Minnesota's Joe Nathan, Los Angeles' Francisco Rodriguez, Chicago's Bobby Jenks and Papelbon from the American League.
Missing from the list of finalists is New York's Mariano Rivera, the only winner in the award's two-year history.
In a wide open field, Papelbon, a two-time finalist in his second year as closer, is one of the favorites. It was in August that the 26-year-old All-Star became the first Red Sox pitcher in franchise history with two 30-save seasons, allowing fans and the media to shower him with appreciation.
"It's a huge honor for me," Papelbon said. "When I moved into this role, it was a goal that I set for myself -- to go out there and be a dominant closer -- to do this not only just one year, but year after year. I want to stay on my work and stay healthy, and break records. That's what I'm all about."
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.