The Red Sox hope Papelbon can save his third game in this series on Wednesday afternoon, because that would mean a three-game sweep to conclude a six-game road trip that started by being swept by the Angels.
The rise of Papelbon to elite status has been a huge part of the Red Sox's success the last three years.
"Huge," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "You have an end to your bullpen. You have somebody to lean on through the toughest parts of the game. I've been here when it was by committee, and we didn't have somebody before Flash [Tom Gordon]. Then, Flash had it and Foulkey [Keith Foulke] came in and now Pap. It's a huge part to know that you have that guy."
And nobody loves being that guy more than Papelbon.
"As this role has become what it is now, I want to definitely be one of the guys to be at the top of the closers. I always want to be the best," said Papelbon.
The Red Sox would love nothing more than to close this road trip out with a win. If they do that and Tampa Bay loses, the Sox would return to Boston in first place in the American League East.
But it won't be easy. Boston must face one of the toughest pitchers in the American League in Felix Hernandez. The Red Sox counter with Clay Buchholz, who has been spotty this season.
BOS: RHP Clay Buchholz (2-5, 5.88 ERA)
The wiry right-hander was pounded for eight hits and eight runs -- four earned -- in his last start, a loss to the Angels. Buchholz lasted 4 2/3 innings. What set the tone was a 37-pitch first inning in which Buchholz gave up three runs. For whatever reason, the righty has struggled in the first inning this season, posting a 9.00 ERA. One thing Buchholz has been unable to give the Red Sox this season is innings. He's thrown less than six innings in his last five starts. This is Buchholz's first career start against the Mariners.
SEA: RHP Felix Hernandez (7-6, 2.95 ERA)
The right-hander was sharp in his first post-All-Star start, holding the Indians to four hits and two runs over six innings, striking out nine along the way. It was his second-highest strikeout total of the season, one fewer than he fanned during a loss to the Athletics on April 27. Lack of run support had been a problem for Hernandez, who had to make due with an average of 3.47 runs in his first 17 starts. The Mariners scored eight runs in the first four innings against Cleveland. Perhaps the best game of Hernandez's career came against the Red Sox. That was more than a year ago, when he tossed a one-hit shutout at Fenway Park.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia is hitting .439 in his last 25 games. ... Coco Crisp has six sacrifice bunts this season, tying him with Pedroia for the team lead. ... Manny Ramirez is hitting .487 during his 11-game hitting streak, adding in three homers, four doubles and nine RBIs. ... The Red Sox have won five of their last seven at Safeco Field since snapping a nine-game losing streak at that venue.
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Friday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 9-6, 3.98) vs. Yankees (Joba Chamberlain, 2-3, 2.52), 7:05 p.m. ET
Saturday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 6-7, 3.69) vs. Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 11-7, 3.86), 3:55 p.m. ET