Papelbon ready to defer to Rivera in All-Star game

By Simon Lewis
PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

BRONX, New York (Ticker) - Boston Red Sox closer Jonathon Papelbon said he would happily let his veteran rival Mariano Rivera go to the mound for the final inning of Tuesday night’s All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

With “The House That Ruth Built” staging the Midsummer Classic for a fourth and final time before the Yankees move across the street to a new stadium in 2009, Papelbon, 27, said Monday he would be prepared to defer to the 38-year-old closer Rivera if the moment called for it.

Rivera, third on the all-time career list with 466 saves, and ninth in the major leagues this season with 23, would be a hugely popular choice to close for an AL team managed by Red Sox skipper Terry Francona.

Papelbon, however, stands first in the AL and second overall with 28 saves.

“Of course I want to close the game out, I wouldn’t be Jonathan Papelbon if I didn’t,” Papelbon said. “But at the same time there are also things within this game that I and other people have to understand that things don’t always work that way.

“We owe a lot to this game, we truly do and I feel that I owe a lot to this game and if that’s one of things that I owe this game, letting an elder statesman go ahead of me, then that’s what it is.”

Papelbon said that despite the intense rivalry in the AL East between the Red Sox and Yankees, he and Rivera have gotten on well, for now.

“We’ve got an awesome relationship. I saw him this morning and we were just sitting there, hanging out,” Papelbon said. “We’ve got a great relationship just for the simple fact we understand each other, we understand what this game is about and we have that mutual respect.

“I’ve always referred to him as the Godfather of the closers, which he pretty much is. Obviously he’s done a lot of great things for this role. He’s one of the main contributors of making this role what it is today.”

Despite the respect, Papelbon would like to one day be compared equally to Rivera or even pass his career totals.

“I’ve a lot of respect for him but at the same time I’m going after him, there’s no question about it,” he said. “I would love to be mentioned on that level or someday surpass him and if I was to say that I didn’t want to do that then I would be questioning my own self, my own character and self-esteem.

“We’ve got a good relationship though.”

Papelbon’s generosity will only go so far, however, and he said he would have liked to have seen more than the seven Red Sox currently on the AL team this week representing the 2007 World Series winners.

“Personally I think we should have more Red Sox here, I really do,” Papelbon said. “We’ve got great guys in Dice-K (Daisuke Matsuzaka), Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell but unfortunately the cookie didn’t crumble that way.

“But that just goes to show what kind of team we are. We all kind of stick together and we’re like a bunch of brothers, we really are.”

What the All-Star Game lacks in Red Sox, however, it more than makes up for with closers, 10 of them spread across the AL and NL teams this year. As Papelbon sees it, it is a confirmation of the rise in importance of the job.

“The role has come into its own. Whereas before it’s kind of been a situation where it’s been overlooked, maybe, now I think Major League Baseball teams are seeing how important it is in their leagues,” he said.

“I know if you ask a lot of hitters out there, they’ll say closers are very valuable because if you’re out there hitting and winning a game and you have no one to close it out then that game is lost. So people and teams and Major League Baseball are starting to realize how important this role is.”


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Updated Monday, Jul 14, 2008