Here are his exact words: "We've both earned that right; us, by winning the World Series and having the opportunity of having our manager there and our team being represented, and Mariano by what he's done for this role, we're in Yankee Stadium and blah, blah, blah. It's not that easy. Everybody thinks it's a cut and dry answer, but it's not. If I was managing the team, I would close. I'm not managing the team, so it don't matter."
Okay, correct me of I'm wrong, but since when does winning the World Series grant you a magical bid to close the All Star Game? Is there any correlation at all? The only connection between the two events concerns the managers, and that's it. You know what's a much better discerning factor? The home stadium. Mariano Rivera isn't just the Yankees' closer: he's their legendary closer. And in Yankee Stadium, he deserves to close. Obviously, the stadium can't be the final factor in every decision (notice that LaTroy Hawkins isn't at the game), but in borderline decisions like this one, you have to lean in the direction of the home fans. As much as Papelbon tries to belittle this factor with his "blah, blah, blah" remark, the fact is that this game is about entertainment, and this year, it's about entertainment for the Yankee fans. If the game was in Fenway, I'd be fine giving the ball to Papelbon. In KC, I'd give the ball to Joakim Soria. They're all great closers, so you can't go wrong with any of them, and in this case, you have to take the home ballpark into consideration.
In addition, Papelbon pitches for, of all teams, the Red Sox. If he played for, say, the Tigers, it wouldn't be such a big deal. But to go with a rival closer over the home crowd's legendary favorite would be awful.
But perhaps more important than the home crowd are the raw stats. Papelbon has looked great this year: he boasts a 2.43 ERA, with 28 saves and 51 strikeouts. But he's also blown four saves, compared to Rivera's zero. And Rivera's ERA is significantly better at 1.06, while he has only one fewer strikeout. His .64 WHIP also edges Papelbon's .96. Yankee Stadium or not, Rivera has been better than Papelbon all season.
Know who else has been better than Papelbon? Twins closer Joe Nathan, with his 1.13 ERA. He's on the All Star Team as well. How about little-heralded Joakim Soria, whose ERA also bests Papelbon at 1.47. (Soria also has 25 saves, only 3 fewer than Papelbon, despite the fact that his team has 14 fewer wins.) And while K-Rod's ERA and WHIP don't compare with the other closers, he's got an unbelievable 38 saves! They all would be legitimate options to close, and while this may be the Yankee fan inside me speaking, I'd rank them all ahead of Papelbon this year. The only closer on the roster worse than Papelbon is George Sherrill, who leads the AL in blown saves and shouldn't be here in the first place.
I don't think Papelbon's a bad closer, not at all. But he's certainly not the best on this team, and even so, it's not like it's a huge margin. It's awfully difficult to overlook the best closer in history, especially when he's having the season he's having, and especially when it's in his home ballpark. And even more so to overlook him for the closer of his team's bitter rival.
Papelbon has since tried to retract his comments, but once it's out there, you can't just hit the backspace button. Yankee fans don't forget so easily. Papelbon and his Red Sox teammates will be booed tonight, and thanks to his big mouth, Papelbon will be booed most of all.