Jonathan Papelbon's 300th Save Mirrors His Philadelphia Phillies Career

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Jonathan Papelbon's 300th Save Mirrors His Philadelphia Phillies Career
AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Jonathan Papelbon earned his 300th career save in a manner befitting his entire tenure as the Phillies' closer.

For starters, much like Papelbon's Phillies career, it probably should have never happened (subscription required), as ESPN's Keith Law wrote at length when the Phillies signed Papelbon to a four-year, $44 million contract.

"The history of signing relievers to deals of that length is simply too awful to ignore," Law wrote then. This season, the myth of the proven closer is taking a new and severe beating from the failures of relievers like Jim Johnson and Grant Balfour.

Papelbon's 300th career save should arguably never have happened because, up 5-2 in the eighth inning, the Phillies loaded the bases only to see Ryan Howard, Marlon Byrd and Domonic Brown all strike out.

Had any of those three "sluggers" driven a run in, the save situation would have been off the board and Papelbon would likely not have begun the ninth inning.

Then, much like Papelbon's tenure in Philadelphia, his ninth inning got messy.

It took him 28 pitches to retire a wholly non-threatening San Diego Padres lineup that is presently dead last in the National League in batting. Papelbon had the Padres down to their last strike before hitting Padres catcher Rene Rivera (hitting .227 this season) with a pitch to load the bases.

And finally, like his whole Philadelphia story, everything somehow ended pretty well for Papelbon. He induced a fielder's choice groundout, the Phillies won and Papelbon had his milestone save.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Many of Amaro Jr.'s moves have not worked out, but Papelbon has done what he was paid to do.

This too is consistent with both the perception and the reality of Papelbon's two-and-a-half seasons in Philadelphia.

Papelbon blew a high-profile save in Texas in the first series of this season, and quickly the emphasis on his diminished velocity was all anyone wanted to talk about.

Two months on, Papelbon's earned run average is a paltry 1.48, he is striking out more than seven batters per nine innings and his WHIP is an above-average 1.07. Papelbon only has 14 saves, but then it is hard to save a game your team is losing in the ninth inning.

And it is not like Papelbon's prior two seasons were subpar, either. He made the 2012 All-Star team, saving 38 of the Phillies' 81 wins that season while posting a 2.44 earned run average and a 1.06 WHIP.

2013 saw some regression (29 saves, 2.92 earned run average, seven blown saves), but Papelbon was hardly the reason the Phillies only won 73 games last season.

Papelbon's main crime right now is being overpaid to perform a role that a team that is 10 games under .500 simply cannot afford to splurge on.

But Papelbon did not force the Phillies to offer him all that money, and neither Papelbon nor the Phillies could have known how fast the Phillies would plummet into mediocrity.

At a time when every move Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has ever made is under white-hot scrutiny, the Papelbon signing can only fairly be called a net positive—even if Papelbon is often hard to watch, or like.

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