The Red Sox broke the 86-year Curse of the Bambino in 2004 by defeating the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series. Now, nine years later, the team appears to be cursed yet again.
The curse that I am talking about is the Curse of Papelbon.
The Sox closer spot was occupied from 2006 to 2011 by Jonathan Papelbon, the club’s all-time saves leader by a wide margin. Papelbon became a free agent after the 2011 season, and the Red Sox, fresh off their historic September collapse, elected not to match the Phillies’ four-year, $50 million contract offer to him.
At the time, the decision seemed a reasonable one. Two of the last three Red Sox seasons had ended on blown saves by Papelbon, and the Sox had the perfect replacement for him ready in their bullpen: Daniel Bard. The flame-throwing righty whose fastball regularly touched 100 mph was built from the same mold as his predecessor, and it seemed only a matter of time before he assumed the role of closer.
But, soon, the Curse of Papelbon would take Daniel Bard as its first victim.
Then Terry Francona was ousted as Red Sox manager, Theo Epstein went to the Cubs, and new faces stepped up to lead the organization. Between GM Ben Cherington and manager Bobby Valentine, and at Bard’s request, the decision was made to transition him into the starting rotation. The project didn’t work. Bard’s struggles in the starting rotation were highlighted by his inability to consistently throw strikes, resulting in a 6.25 BB/9 and a 6.22 ERA. He made only 10 starts before being sent down to Triple-A and the re-transition from starter back to reliever began.
As a result of the departures of Papelbon and Bard from the bullpen after the 2011 season, the Sox found themselves in need of both a new closer and a new setup-man. So, the Sox traded outfielder Josh Reddick and two minor league prospects to the A’s for Andrew Bailey. Then, they traded Kyle Weiland and Jed Lowrie, two young but major league-ready players, to Houston for Mark Melancon.
Bailey, always injury-prone, hurt his right thumb in spring training and did not make it on to the mound at Fenway until mid-August.
Manager Bobby Valentine had a decision to make. Who would replace Papelbon for the 2012 season? Valentine elected to go with Alfredo Aceves who, while recording 25 saves, posted a 5.36 ERA with eight blown saves. Melancon, who would have been the next man in line for the job, was unavailable after being sent down to Triple-A on April 18 with an ERA of 49.50. Yes, you read that correctly.
So, after the 2012 season, it was apparent that the Sox still needed someone to fill the ninth inning role. Recognizing this need, Cherington traded Melancon and two prospects to the Pirates for closer Joel Hanrahan.
New manager John Farrell immediately named Hanrahan the closer, and it seemed that the void finally was filled. Not so fast. Hanrahan pitched seven and a third innings in a Red Sox uniform, posting a 9.82 ERA,and recorded only four saves in six chances before tearing a flexor muscle in his right arm and undergoing season-ending surgery.
After the injury, Bailey was once again given the nod as Red Sox closer. Predictably, he has since lost the job. He blew five saves in 13 chances, including four of his last five.
The closing job for the first-place Red Sox now rests in the hands of Koji Uehara.
But until someone in a Red Sox uniform hits a walk-off home run against Papelbon at Fenway Park, the Curse remains.