- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Only he didn't. Papelbon's shoulder had subluxed, a technical term, in this case, for the bone of the upper arm dislodging from the shoulder socket. His shoulder could be fixed with rest and rehabilitation, but from this episode the Red Sox learned something about Papelbon's physiology that will shape the rest of his career.
Besides his divine fastball, Papelbon is blessed with an unusually strong rotator cuff, the system of four tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. It is Papelbon's curse, however, to have been born with a structurally compromised labrum. The labrum is a ring of fibrous cartilage around the cavity of the shoulder joint where the bone of the upper arm fits. Papelbon's rotator cuff, as sturdy as it is, had became so fatigued from his workload that it shut down, putting more stress on the labrum than it could handle. With nothing left to hold the shoulder together, the bone popped out of the shoulder socket.
The Red Sox' doctors warned the front office that Papelbon's workload and rest would need to be carefully managed to avoid a recurrence. Translation: He wasn't fit for the day-to-day uncertainties of closing. He would have to start.
"I wasn't crazy about it," Papelbon says. "I did it because it was like a boss telling you, 'This is what you gotta do.' And you think, That's right. This is their investment."
WITH PAPELBON medically barred from closing, the Sox no longer had their automatic fix, but general manager Theo Epstein figured he would turn up a closer somewhere before the start of the season. One month into spring training, however, Boston still didn't have anyone who could shut the door in the ninth.
Despite what the doctors said, Francona hadn't given up hope that his star might yet return to the role. There was also some concern about how Papelbon would fare as a starter. Would that late life on his fastball still be there the second or third time through the lineup? Also, his breaking ball hadn't improved much since college, and he'd need it as a starter. The pitch did not come naturally to him. The gift that makes Papelbon such a top fastball pitcher—the ability to keep his right hand behind the ball—gets in the way of his breaking ball, which must be thrown with the hand rotating around the baseball.
So on March 20 Francona called Epstein as soon as Papelbon left his office. "You've got to talk to Pap!"
Epstein quickly met with Papelbon, who told him, "I woke up this morning and realized I'm a closer."
"Go home," Epstein said. "Sleep on it. Wake up again tomorrow. If you still feel the same way, we'll talk to the doctors and find a way to make this work."
The next day team doctors and officials began devising the Papelbon Program. It was divided into three parts: how often he could be used, daily testing and a shoulder-strengthening program. For instance, Francona was not to use Papelbon three days in a row, or even two days in a row after a high pitch count. Nor could he use Papelbon the day after he had pitched more than one inning.