It ended, however, in the ninth inning in a Fourth of July matinee against the Yankees, when Papelbon was entrusted to protect a three-run lead.
After retiring the first two batters, Papelbon walked Brett Gardner. Then came a brief obstacle. Derek Jeter hit a fly ball to center that Coco Crisp appeared to make a game-ending diving catch on. But third-base umpire Wally Bell ruled it a double. Gardner crossed home and Bobby Abreu suddenly represented the tying run.
"I saw him catch it," said Papelbon. "I think I had a better angle from the mound thn [the umpire] did at third base. No use crying over spilled milk. Like I said, you can't cry over spilled milk. We won the game."
That's because Papelbon was able to exhale after getting Abreu on a fly ball to deep center.
Despite the rust, Papelbon felt fine.
"It's part of my role, having to pitch four days in a row and maybe having to not pitch four days in a row," Papelbon said. "For me, it's gotten to be where I can pretty much combat those situations pretty good, in my opinion. For me, it's always good to get back out there on four or five days' rest. I didn't let it affect me."
In his third full year as Boston's closer, Papelbon knows how to balance the fluctuation in workload.
"I've been through this so many times before, it's old hat now," said Papelbon. "I'll just stay sharp with my normal stuff, my dry work and other stuff. It's good, because you know there will be that period where I throw a bunch of days in a row."
Manager Terry Francona also wasn't worked up about Papelbon's dry spell, other than the fact it signified the team was in a five-game losing streak until Thursday.
"We got him up hot the other night, which helps," said Francona. "He's actually been up a couple of times. I know he's not been in a game. Because of kind of the quirkiness of how we lost some of those games, we lost them earlier than we could get to him. We'd certainly like to pitch him. A game is better than throwing in the bullpen, I get your point."
Even with the break, Papelbon still ranks third in the American League with 25 saves. He is a strong candidate to be an All-Star for the third consecutive season.