Commentary

Pap and Papi's sweet swan song?

Their part in burying the Yankees raises the topic about their futures in Boston

Updated: September 1, 2011, 10:13 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Twenty-seven games left in the regular season. A month. Another three weeks or so of postseason play, if things break the Boston Red Sox's way, and then it could be over. For David Ortiz. For Jonathan Papelbon.

With another immensely popular slugger, Mo Vaughn, in the house Wednesday night, you could be forgiven for thinking, "Isn't it always that way?''

[+] EnlargeJonathan Papelbon
Elsa/Getty ImagesJonathan Papelbon is pumped after striking out Brett Gardner to end the game and secure the win Wednesday.

Thanks for the memories, guys. But by now we've learned our lesson -- from Mo, from Pedro Martinez, from Johnny Damon -- your fans can wish you back all they want, but the Sox can say goodbye to the best of them.

"It's funny you say that,'' Papelbon said Wednesday night, "because you still see those jerseys every blue moon. You see a Mo Vaughn jersey every so often. You see a Pedro often, actually. I think Pedro is the most beloved Red Sox pitcher in the history of the game.''

So what can the Red Sox say, then, as we head into September, about their desire to retain Ortiz and Papelbon, both free agents at the end of the season?

"This isn't the time to talk about this,'' general manager Theo Epstein said to a question posed before Ortiz hit his 28th home run of the season and 41st of his career against the Yankees, including five in the postseason, and Papelbon finished off Boston's 9-5 win over the New Yorkers on Wednesday night by striking out Brett Gardner in a 1-2-3, two-punchout ninth.

"These guys are obviously huge parts of the team,'' Epstein said. "I love those guys. We'd love for them to be here. This isn't the time to be talking about that kind of stuff. This is the time to be grinding out wins, focusing on what we need to do to accomplish our goal of winning the division, and go from there. I'm not going to entertain that right now publicly.''

Ortiz was walking out of the clubhouse when he was told that Epstein had said this wasn't the time. His response was to tilt his head back and laugh. It is hardly a secret that Ortiz had hoped for an extension by now, just as the corollary has been clear, too, that the Sox have no intention of offering him one until after the season.

Papelbon's response? He agreed with Epstein: Now is not the time.

"When the season's over,'' Papelbon said. "It's the only option, really. I think it's kind of a no-brainer, right? There's no sense in [talking now].''

Papelbon, from the time he became arbitration eligible, showed a willingness to go year to year, rather than opt for the security of a multi-year deal that would have paid him less on a per-annum basis. He has won that gamble, having earned $27.6 million in his three arbitration years, which is $10 million more than Jon Lester, for example, will earn over the same period in his career as part of the five-year, $30 million contract he signed.

Papelbon is being paid $12 million this season, a figure exceeded by only three closers (average annual value): Mariano Rivera, Brad Lidge and Francisco Rodriguez.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ortiz
Elsa/Getty ImagesDavid Ortiz celebrates his two-run homer in the fifth inning against the Yankees on Wednesday night.

"I think Theo and I have been on the same page since Day 1, really, for the most part,'' Papelbon said. "Have we had our bumps in the road? Hell, yeah. What player doesn't, you know.

"There were things along the way I didn't agree with, they didn't agree with. So be it. Whether it was things said publicly or whether it was stuff that was personal or talked about behind closed doors, you have all these different situations that come up. It ain't day care. It's part of being in the big leagues. It's a business."

What comes next?

"When we didn't get something done this offseason, which at this point in time I wasn't looking to get done either -- you got to be honest from both sides -- I think it was a mutual understanding. You know what, we'll play the year out, see how it goes. Basically it boils down to, do you want to keep a Papelbon-Bard, 1-2 punch for the next four to five World Series runs?''

If Papelbon's price is too high -- and you have to imagine that Rivera's $15 million annual salary will be within his sights -- the Sox may decide to pass. Just as they did with Vaughn, with Martinez, with Damon, and may also do with Ortiz, who as a 35-year-old DH doesn't enjoy the same kind of negotiating leverage the 30-year-old Papelbon has.

The market may well be softer for closers than Papelbon anticipates, although the way both players are performing, the Sox may be the ones surprised by the demand.

Papelbon, with his 1-2-3 ninth, has now pitched 17 consecutive scoreless innings over his past 17 games, including perfect innings in his past five appearances. (Liverpool fans would call those "clean sheets.") He has allowed just three baserunners, all on singles, while striking out 20 in that span.

Ortiz, meanwhile, has hit in a season-high 14 straight games, batting a stunning .509 (27 for 53) in that span, with seven home runs, seven doubles and 16 RBIs.

WBZ's Jonny Miller asked Ortiz if there was any reason he has been in a groove the past month.

"I've been in a groove all year, Jonny,'' Ortiz said. "I'm out.''

And with that, he headed for the door.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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