BOSTON -- He had been perfect in the postseason, or as perfect as one can be, with an 0.00 ERA over 26 innings. But Jonathan Papelbon -- one of the game's best closers and the Red Sox's franchise leader with 151 career saves -- walked off the Fenway Park mound Sunday to a chorus of boos.
"Why would you boo one of the best closers in the game?" the Angels' Torii Hunter asked. "Booing Papelbon was not the right thing to do. I've got so much respect for him and I think he's one of the best closers in the game. That's terrible, actually."
Papelbon walked off the mound after Vladimir Guerrero -- with two outs, the bases loaded, and the Red Sox clinging to a 6-5 lead -- hit a sinking liner to center field, driving in two runs. The Angels went on to win 7-6, shocking the crowd at Fenway and ending Boston's season with a three-game division series sweep.
Papelbon heard the boos, but unlike some of his teammates who were upset at the treatment, he understood why they came.
"These fans don't expect any more out of me than I do out of myself," he said. "You know, I think they get so accustomed to seeing me do what I do. And when I don't do what I do, I think it's kind of like, 'Well, why didn't he do that?'
"No booing of a fan is going to make or break me, that's for sure."
While teammate Tim Wakefield and general manager Theo Epstein both said they felt the fans' displeasure was with the situation and not Papelbon, others in the clubhouse disagreed.
"Look at what he's done in the playoffs, look at what he's done during the season," Jon Lester said. "[It wasn't] even a bad outing, a team just beat him. I don't really appreciate that for what he's done for this city and what he's brought to this team. If you're [booing] based off one bad performance here, it's just not right."
Added Manny Delcarmen: "A little more respect for a guy like that, what he's done here. I don't think that was the right thing to do at the time."
Papelbon's breakdown had actually started an inning earlier, when he relieved Billy Wagner with two on and two outs. Juan Rivera singled in both runs on Papelbon's first pitch, cutting the Boston lead to 5-4. Papelbon got out of the inning when he picked off pinch runner Reggie Willits.
The scene was somewhat reminiscent of Game 2 of last year's division series against the Angels, when Papelbon came into the eighth inning with a 5-4 Boston lead. He allowed a sacrifice fly to score Chone Figgins with the tying run, but in the top of the ninth, J.D. Drew hit a two-run homer for a 7-5 win. Boston went on to win the series, and had won nine of 10 against the Angels in the postseason before this series began.
"The season didn't just wind down," manager Terry Francona said. "It came to a crashing halt."
The Red Sox scored an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth on a Mike Lowell RBI single that made it 6-4. When Papelbon got two quick outs to open the ninth, the game seemed all but over.
"All season we play all nine innings, we never give up," said Hunter, whose team was second in the majors with 47 come-from-behind wins. "We kept battling; we did our thing."
While Hunter thought the fans' treatment of Papelbon was shameful, Epstein had a different take.
"He's been a big part of our success," Epstein said. "[He] didn't have it today. There were a lot of frustrated people out there. I'd be shocked if they were booing him personally and not the situation."
Wakefield echoed Epstein's sentiments.
"They're booing the situation -- it's not that they think he stinks," Wakefield said. "Our fans are very knowledgeable, very passionate about their team. I've told people this: If you get booed, don't think it's personal. It's just part of the gig of playing here."
But will Papelbon be playing here next year? There has been much speculation about whether the Red Sox may trade him in favor of Daniel Bard, their presumed closer-in-waiting who also would cost significantly less. Epstein said he wouldn't take questions about anything related to the offseason until Monday, and Papelbon did not discuss it.
But if Papelbon's days in Boston are over, he'll leave understanding how playing in Boston works, and, according to him, not having a problem with it.