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Papelbon brings home DHL award

Papelbon brings home DHL award

BOSTON -- When Jonathan Papelbon decided back in March that there was no turning back and he was going to be a closer for good, he set the bar as high as it would go.

"Hopefully, what [Mariano] Rivera has done for the Yankees, I can do with the Sox," Papelbon said.

He backed up those bold words in 2007, and an honor came his way on Thursday because of it. Papelbon was awarded with the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year, presented by DHL.

This, after his second consecutive season of sheer dominance while performing the role of last call.

"He's a star," said Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo. "He's lights out. He's the best right now, just the best. Fortunately, I've never faced him. Being behind him, I know what he does. He puts the ball wherever he wants, he throws 95 [mph] with a splitty. He's not afraid to throw strikes."

The Red Sox won 96 games this season to win their first American League East title since 1995 and have advanced to the AL Championship Series, thanks in large part to Papelbon's brilliance.

The fireballing righty posted a 1.85 ERA in 2007, converting 37 of 40 save opportunities. In 58 1/3 innings, Papelbon allowed just 30 hits while striking out 84 in being named an All-Star for the second consecutive year.

Papelbon's rookie campaign of 2006 ended a month early thanks to a right shoulder subluxation. But he spent the winter restrengthening his shoulder and the results have been there for everyone to see. Papelbon, who has been handled with more care this season by Red Sox manager Terry Francona, didn't have a single health issue.

"I feel like I've got my legs, I've got my arms and less headaches," said Papelbon, who had notched 36 saves with an eye-popping 13.34 strikeouts per nine innings heading into the final week of 2007. "Last year was a grind for me. I really grinded and grinded until I couldn't grind any more, and this year, I'm knowing my body and the system better."

With an anchor like Papelbon, it's no surprise the bullpen has been the strength of the Red Sox for most of the season.

"It starts with the strength at the end -- with Pap," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "Pap is the end to the bullpen. It allows us to mix and match a lot of different people to get us there."

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As successful as Papelbon has been, he knows that his support crew has put him in the position to succeed.

"I've said this a million times. I'm nothing without my bullpen," said Papelbon. "A lot of my success goes to the guys in the bullpen who have been there all year long and helped me have a successful season."

The Delivery Man of the Year is sanctioned by Major League Baseball and recognizes the most outstanding relief pitcher of the season, as voted by the fans. Voting took place on MLB.com from Sept. 25-Oct. 8 and Papelbon received 39,043 votes.

Papelbon is the first Red Sox reliever to post 30 saves in two different seasons. He limited opponents to a .146 batting average, which was the stingiest in the league among qualifying relievers. Papelbon's 12.96 strikeouts per nine innings ratio was the best in the Majors among relievers.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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