Latest zero nets Papelbon a record
Sox's closer pushes scoreless streak to 20 2/3 playoff innings
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jonathan Papelbon has a talent for making history when he takes the ball. It's what he does with the baseball afterward that isn't so predictable.
His final-out ball from last year's World Series ended up as an accidental chewtoy for his dog during the offseason. His out that set a new postseason scoreless-innings record on Friday after the Red Sox beat the Rays, 2-0, in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series briefly ended up in the trash before Papelbon realized what he had done.
"I usually just throw them away or throw them in the corner or something," Papelbon said. "I threw this one away, and I wasn't even thinking that it was a Major League record. I had to scurry back in here and grab it out of the trash."
It's about as close as Papelbon comes to giving up anything in October. Friday's game was more of the same.
With a 2-0 Red Sox lead in the ninth inning, Papelbon came in and retired the Rays in order to erase any hopes Tampa Bay had for a comeback. In the process of putting Boston in command to open this series, however, Papelbon set a commanding mark of his own by stretching his streak to 20 2/3 career postseason innings without allowing a run, two outs further than Joe Niekro's old record at the start of a career.
Niekro set his mark across three postseason outings, two of which were starting assignments with the Houston Astros in 1980 and '81. Papelbon's entire record has come as a late-inning reliever, dating back to 2005. He has 13 career postseason appearances and has blanked his opponent each time.
Papelbon might have a hard time valuing the baseballs, but he has a keen appreciation for the statistics.
"I've always told myself that big leaguers are remembered throughout this game for what they do in the postseason and championships," Papelbon said. "For me, it's always been a critical part of my game, to kind of step it up in the postseason. What can I say? I just kind of take it one inning at a time and just keep trying to run with it.
"For me, it's all about taking it to another level. It matters a little bit more in the postseason. You can look at all these great players throughout history, and none of them are really remembered until they win championships or they do special things in postseason. I've kind of always taken that to heart with my play. That's all I can say, really."
Papelbon has one World Series championship, which he closed out last year, and Friday's win puts the Red Sox in a good position to get back to the Fall Classic.
It isn't that the regular season doesn't matter to Papelbon, he cautioned. His 1.84 ERA and 113 saves in 202 career appearances certainly show that he cares. After a career-high 41 saves and 69 1/3 innings this season, the right-hander had a heavy workload heading into the postseason. Part of the reason for Papelbon's success is his ability to put that behind him.
"It's produce or go home, and it's not like that in the regular season," Papelbon said. "During the season, you get to the play the next day still. This is not like that."
Papelbon's record ball is likely heading home with him when this postseason is over for the Red Sox, whenever that happens. What happens to the ball from there is anyone's guess.
"I don't know," Papelbon said. "It depends on how much the ball's worth. My dog might get it."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.