BOSTON — The question took Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon off guard. Did he think he should be part of the Cy Young conversation?
"I don't know man, how many times has a closer won the Cy Young, once?" Told it had happened at least seven times, he raised his eyebrows. "Seven times? I think for me, it's just going out there and doing what I'm trying to do. If it happens, it happens. Who knows, man, we've still got a lot of baseball to determine that. Who knows?"
The idea of Papelbon contending for the Cy Young this year would shock many attentive Red Sox fans as well.
His core numbers are excellent: a 1.89 ERA and 36 saves. But anyone who has watched him - or looked up how many hits and walks he was allowing - could tell that for much of the year, this wasn't the same pitcher who shortened games for Boston from 2006 to 2008. Papelbon allowed nearly 1.5 baserunners per inning before the All-Star break, and many of his successful saves were roller-coaster rides of walks, hits, and then finally strikeouts.
That has changed over the past month. Papelbon is now pitching efficiently and effectively, backing up his excellent core numbers with shutdown, worry-free performances, like Sunday's three-strikeout scoreless inning. Since the end of July, he has improved to the point where talking about whether he should be in the Cy Young mix isn't that crazy after all.
Early in the year, Papelbon was allowing too much hard contact, and walking batters at an unprecedented rate. By August 24, Papelbon had walked 24 batters, nine more than he had in any other full season.
But even after putting two or three men on base, he would somehow manage to get the key strikeout to end the jam nearly every time.