Jonathan Papelbon on 300th save: “It means a lot to me”

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It was a long time between save opportunities for the Phillies’ Jonathan Papelbon. Since May 24 Papelbon really had no need to warm up for the ninth inning, since there were no games to save.

Maybe that’s why he decided to let Tuesday’s night’s chance against the San Diego Padres linger a little longer than he should have. Entering the ninth with a three-run lead, Papelbon loaded the bases with two outs before finally closing it down with a ground ball by Tommy Medica (see game recap).

No harm, no foul.

And with that tightrope act, Papelbon became the 26th pitcher in big-league history to register 300 saves. Moreover, he did it in fewer games than anyone except for Trevor Hoffman.

Fittingly, Papelbon got No. 300 against Hoffman’s former team.

Nevertheless, Papelbon’s journey to 300 saves wasn’t exactly quixotic, though it wasn’t without its detours. A starter in the minors, Papelbon successfully lobbied Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein to move him to the closer role.

Perhaps closing games is what has kept Papelbon off the disabled list for his entire 10 years in the big leagues.

“It means a lot to me, more than what most people would probably think,” Papelbon said after escaping with his 14th save of the season. “I started this a long time ago and I was supposed to be a starter. Theo Epstein wanted to make me a starter and I told him I didn’t want to be a starter. It’s been a long journey since then. I don’t know how happy he was when I told him I wanted to do that, but it’s all turned out the way I expected it and hoped it would. I got to keep working hard and keep putting in the work to stay healthy and hopefully try to get another 300 if I stay healthy.”

In Phillies history, closers have been more like Haley’s Comet than Old Faithful. Jose Mesa has the franchise record with 112 saves, notching 87 of them in his first two seasons with the team. Brad Lidge left Philly with 100 saves and 41 of them came during that magical 2008 season.

With 81 saves in a little more than two seasons and a contract that runs through 2015 with a vesting option for 2016, Papelbon could blow past Mesa’s record. Considering Papelbon’s ability to stay off the disabled list, there’s no reason why he can’t match Hoffman’s mark of 601 saves. After all, Hoffman got all but 10 of his saves in 14 of his 18 seasons and missed nearly all of the 2003 season on the disabled list.

Though Papelbon has lost a little off his fastball and he struggled in Tuesday’s game, he has converted all but one of his save chances this season. Better yet, Papelbon has posted a 1.48 ERA and has 12 1-2-3 innings in his 25 appearances.

Despite this, Papelbon’s strikeout rate is at a career low and his walk rate has doubled since last season. However, Papelbon has allowed just two extra-base hits this season and has held the opposition to a .195 batting average. Even at the start of his career when he was taking over the role as closer for the Red Sox, Papelbon only held opponents to a lower batting average just once.

So how does he stay healthy and convert saves even though his fastball isn’t as sharp?

Easy. It’s all upstairs, Papelbon said.

“It’s a mental grind and you have to stay focused the best you can,” Papelbon said. “There is no way to really duplicate a game-on-the-line type situation, but for me I just try to stay focused. It’s more mental than physical.

“That’s one of the main reasons why I decided to become a closer. I don’t know why, but I like the rollercoaster ride and it is what it is. I like coming to the yard every day knowing I have a chance to go in there or not. It’s hard to explain.”

It also helps that the closer’s role is much more refined than it once was. Papelbon, Hoffman and the all-time saves leader, Mariano Rivera, rarely pitch more than one inning. Bruce Sutter, the Hall of Fame pitcher who finished his career with 300 saves in 12 seasons, rarely worked so little. In fact, in his 661 games, Sutter pitched more than one inning 407 times.

In 1984, Sutter appeared in a career-high 71 games and pitched 122 innings. Papelbon got to 131 innings in his first 131 games with the Phillies.

For that, Papelbon gave praise to Rivera for redefining the role and allowing pitchers like himself to save more games and have longer careers.

“The closer’s role is what it is today because of Mariano Rivera. There is no other man that is solely responsible for it but him,” Papelbon said. “In my opinion, he made the role what it is today and I’ve told him many a time that he’s the godfather of all closers. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be in this type of situation today. When I was in Boston, I used to joke with him all the time. He’d come back for another year and play and it seemed like he had some kind of fountain of youth over there in Panama. He made it harder and harder for me every year. Everyone’s chasing him, so hopefully one day I can get somewhere close to him and we’ll see what happens if I can stay healthy.”

It’s worth noting that Mesa ceded the closer’s role to Mike Williams at the end of his tenure in Philadelphia. And Lidge gave way to Ryan Madson at the end of his time in town. Working on his third season, Papelbon isn’t looking over his shoulder yet.

And That Happened: Friday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Friday’s scores and highlights:

Reds 5, Phillies 2: Tim Adleman tapped into some kind of magic on Friday, redeeming his 6.19 ERA with eight innings of one-hit ball against the Phillies. Any hint of a no-hitter was erased in the first inning, when the right-hander served up a 1-2 base hit to Andres Blanco and plunked Aaron Altherr in the next at-bat. He undid the Phillies’ damage with an inning-ending double play and proceeded to retire the next 16 consecutive batters, finally breaking his streak on a pair of walks in the seventh and eighth.

Granted, Adleman’s breakout came against the fifth-worst offense in the National League — but a win is a win, and the Reds will take any leg up in the standings they can get.

Athletics 4, Yankees 1: After seven fierce innings of a pitcher’s duel, including Masahiro Tanaka‘s career-high 13 strikeouts and Sean Manaea‘s first seven-inning outing since 2016, the Yankees’ bullpen proved to be their undoing. Tyler Clippard advanced Adam Rosales to third base on an errant pickoff throw, then allowed a stolen base, walk, and back-to-back singles to give the A’s a two-run lead in the eighth inning. Jonathan Holder fared little better, losing a 2-0 battle with Stephen Vogt in the ninth and giving up the two-run homer that would seal the A’s 22nd win of the season.

Nationals 5, Padres 1: The Nationals still have a comfortable lead atop the NL East division, and they appear to have made a full recovery from their slump last week, going 4-1 on the road against the Braves and Mariners. There’s no bad time for a Max Scherzer shutdown performance, however, and that’s just what they got during Friday’s win. Scherzer laid out 13 strikeouts in a season-best performance, holding the Padres to three hits and extending his all-time record to 53 double-strikeout appearances.

Mets 8, Pirates 1: Jacob deGrom is finally getting his groove back. Following a seven-inning shutout against the Angels last week, the right-hander delivered 8 1/3 innings of one-run ball against the Pirates, whiffing 10 of 32 batters for his fifth double-strikeout performance of the year.

Unsurprisingly, deGrom’s near-complete game was the longest outing by a Mets’ starter in 2017.

Blue Jays 7, Rangers 6: Only two weeks ago, Devon Travis had yet to crest the Mendoza line. Now, he appears to be making steady progress toward another .300 average after hitting his second career grand slam in the Blue Jay’s 7-6 win on Friday night.

The knock preceded Travis’ one-out double in the fourth inning, his 15th of the month and the most by any Blue Jays hitter in the month of May. That might not be enough to dig the Blue Jays out of last place in the AL East, but they’ve now won four consecutive games and have started to close in on the fourth-place Rays.

Royals 6, Indians 4: The Royals technically edged out the Indians on Friday, but the Indians were treated to a repeat visit from the Rally Squirrel, so who’s to say who the real winner is here?

Marlins 8, Angels 5: Giancarlo Stanton is made of the stuff superheroes dreamed of. Who else would hit a leadoff home run and manage, through no extraordinary effort, to physically damage the wall in center field?

The Angels, meanwhile, have now taken three losses in a row. Albert Pujols went 2-for-4 with a single and a double, but is still stuck at No. 597 in his quest for 600 career home runs.

Red Sox 3, Mariners 0: The Red Sox are fast closing in on first place in the AL East, and nothing is going to stand in their way now — not Dustin Pedroia‘s temporary absence, not the last-place Mariners, and certainly not a couple hours of rain. Eduardo Rodriguez dominated in his fourth start of the year, holding the Mariners at arm’s length through six scoreless innings and striking out four of 24 batters. Not a single run was scored via a hit, from Josh Rutledge‘s RBI groundout in the second inning to a run-scoring wild pitch by Yovani Gallardo and a passed ball by Mike Zunino in the sixth.

Diamondbacks 4, Brewers 2 (10 innings): There’s never a good time for a blown save, but snapping a scoreless streak of 13 1/3 innings with a blown save in the ninth inning, with two outs and a 404-foot game-tying home run by the .235-average Chris Iannetta is far from ideal.

The Brewers couldn’t get back on track after Corey Knebel‘s mistake, and lost in the 10th after Wily Peralta allowed a run on a wild pitch and Jake Lamb clobbered an RBI double to secure the win.

Astros 2, Orioles 0: Don’t worry, the Astros are still the best team in baseball. They padded an impressive nine-game lead on Friday night, taking their fourth win of the week with seven sterling innings from Joe MusgroveKen Giles‘ 14th save of the season and a modest two home runs from Jake Marisnick and Carlos Beltran.

White Sox 8, Tigers 2: It was a long and rainy night for the Tigers, who were rained out during Game 1 of a doubleheader, sat through a one-hour, 25-minute rain delay in Game 2, and still lost poorly to the White Sox. Matt Boyd continued to look shaky on the mound, delivering nine hits and three runs over 4 2/3 innings, and striking out just three of 23 batters. Alex Avila pulled the Tigers within a run of tying the game, smashing a 419-foot home run to center field in the fifth inning, but the Tigers were left clueless at the plate against the White Sox’ ever-revolving carousel of relievers.

Rays 5, Twins 2: The best part of the Rays’ win wasn’t the way they extended their win streak to three games, nor was it Logan Morrison‘s home run, Kevin Kiermaier‘s blast or Steven Souza Jr.’s eighth-inning homer. It was the reminder that sometimes, baseball is little more than pure, glorious entertainment:

Souza Jr. took to Twitter following the game to find out just how far off the mark he was:

Rockies 10, Cardinals 0: The Diamondbacks and Dodgers are going to have a difficult time catching the Rockies in the NL West if Colorado keeps turning out wins like this one. They were dominant in every aspect of Friday’s game, flummoxing the Cardinals at the plate with eight scoreless frames from Antonio Senzatela and returning in the ninth with a flawless 12-pitch inning by Jordan Lyles.

The Rockies’ offense was no less formidable at the plate, putting up an eight-spot in the eighth inning that featured, among other things, two home runs from Charlie Blackmon and Mark Reynolds and Nolan Arenado‘s 17th double of the season. Blackmon went 4-for-4 for the first time since 2016, recording an RBI triple, home run and single to come one double shy of hitting for the cycle.

Dodgers 4, Cubs 0: All the hope that Jake Arrieta gave the Cubs during his last start was erased on Friday. Instead of building on the six-inning shutout he delivered against the Brewers, Arrieta found himself mired in a nine-hit, four-run performance against the Dodgers, striking out nine of 23 batters and allowing two home runs for the fourth time this season. The Cubs’ offense couldn’t catch a break against Alex Wood, or Pedro Baez, or Chris Hatcher, failing to produce a single run and eventually taking their third shutout of the month.

Braves 2, Giants 0: It wasn’t so long ago that Matt Cain was a workhorse, consistently turning in 200+ innings and 3.0+ fWAR from season to season. While his glory days are well behind him now, Cain flashed a little of that dominance on Friday, going seven innings with two runs, a walk and three strikeouts against the Braves. Alas, it wasn’t enough to carry the Giants to a much-needed win: opposing starter Jaime Garcia‘s two-run single was all the team needed to edge out the Giants for their 21st win of the year.

Giancarlo Stanton dented the outfield wall in Marlins Park

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If we haven’t said it before, it bears repeating: When it comes to pure muscle mass and power, no major league player rivals the sheer force of Giancarlo Stanton. His record-setting 504-foot home run in 2016 has yet to be bested in the Statcast era (though it narrowly beat out Jake Arrieta‘s 503-foot blast in 2015, because baseball is weird), he broke the Dodgers’ outfield fence on an attempted catch at the wall last Sunday, and he carries 25 home runs that have each exceeded 460 feet.

It should come as little surprise, then, that when Stanton muscled his 12th home run of the season against the Angels on Friday night, it not only hit the batter’s eye, but left a visible dent in the wall:

Stanton’s mammoth shot put the Marlins on the board in the first inning, setting the stage for a four-run effort that gave the club an early lead. The home run measured a cool 462 feet, the slugger’s longest of the season. He still has a little ways to go to catch up to the 2017 season leader, Jake Lamb, whose 481-foot home run against the Rockies currently leads the pack.

The next item on Stanton’s bucket list? If we’re lucky, maybe something a little like this: