With two men on and two outs in the ninth, setting up the save situation with the tying run on deck, Papelbon took the mound to face Orioles rookie Matt Wieters. After falling behind quickly at 0-2, Wieters lofted a fly into shallow left field. But an all-out diving catch by Jason Bay ended the game and gave Papelbon the first of what could be many career milestones.
Stanley had set the record over the course of a 13-year career with the Red Sox, from 1977-89, during which he pitched in many roles. He only topped the 20-save plateau twice in that span, with 33 in 1983 and 22 in '84.
But as Papelbon was quick to note, Stanley pitched during a different era of relievers, which helps explains the fact that he was able to catch him in just three seasons as a closer.
"The era of baseball he pitched in was a lot different, and, in my opinion, a lot harder, with a lot of two- or three-inning saves," said Papelbon, who is on pace to top the 30-save mark for the fourth time in as many seasons. "The game's become a lot more specialized now, and so to get this milestone is huge, to follow in the footsteps of guys like that."
Papelbon also pointed out that Stanley had to switch back and forth between roles, something Papelbon did at the beginning of his pro career before moving into the closer role for good in 2006.
"He teeter-tottered back and forth, and one thing he said that hit home with me was that to go out there every day and pitch is what made his clock tick," said Papelbon. "It's the same way with me. It was tough for me to sit for five days when I had a bad start. It was easier for me to come back as a closer the next day and redeem myself."
While the two may have pitched in different eras, though, Papelbon feels there are many similarities between himself and the man they called "Steamer."
"The thing I loved about him is he really kind of pitched like me in the sense that he wasn't out there trying to trick anybody, he went right after hitters," Papelbon said. "Also, he liked to have fun in the bullpen down there. I think we have a lot in common."
Saving the day
|Closer Jonathan Papelbon recorded career save No. 132 in the Red Sox's 4-0 win vs. the Orioles on Monday night, tying him with Bob Stanley for the most in Red Sox history.|
On Monday, Papelbon was also paying homage to a friend and competitor whose own recent milestone he could only hope to someday chase: career save No. 500, collected Sunday night by Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
"Seeing what Mo did is just absolutely incredible," said Papelbon, who got to watch Rivera record the final outs of the Yankees' 4-2 win over the Mets from his hotel room in Baltimore. "He sets the standard and it's a pretty heavy standard to set."
Rivera, 39, became just the second closer to reach the elusive 500-save plateau, joining Milwaukee closer Trevor Hoffman (571). Saves only became an official statistic in baseball in 1969, as the role of the relief pitcher shifted to more specialization.
It took Rivera just over 13 seasons to reach the mark, having collected his first save in May 1996.
"He's been able to do it with consistency year in and year out, and that's what's really impressive, especially in the American League East," said Papelbon, who has been named to the AL All-Star team in each of his three full big league seasons and hopes to make it four in a row. "Hopefully I'll be able to give him personal congratulations in St. Louis."
Papelbon is on a similar pace, with 35 saves in 2006, 37 in '07, 41 in '08 and 19 so far heading into the final week before the All-Star break, to go with a 1.89 ERA.
And while he thinks the goal is reachable, Papelbon knows that it will take more than just luck.
"It's realistic because you train yourself to think you're good enough to do it," said Papelbon, who turned 28 during the offseason. "But at the same time, to stay healthy for that many years and not only to stay healthy, but to be able to play through pain, when you're aching day in and day out. It's pretty amazing."
Papelbon, a closer at Mississippi State before being drafted by Boston in the fourth round in 2003, worked as a starting pitcher for two Minor League seasons and part of his big league debut in '05 before being moved back to the closer role in '06.
Despite the "healthy" rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox -- or maybe because of it -- there is no closer that Papelbon admires more than Rivera.
"He's the godfather of our role, he's done so much for it," Papelbon said. "To chase him is definitely an honor and definitely a challenge, and I'm always up for challenges."
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.