He had his moment on the mound on Sunday night, blowing a fastball past Seth Smith for the final out of the World Series to earn the Red Sox their second championship in four years. But his signature performance didn't involve any steps. All he did was throw his glove into the air as high as he could.
That was about all he could do. All the work he has done this postseason, all the innings he has compiled, finally came to a conclusion when he got his reward.
Even as he reveled in the clubhouse celebration, there was fatigue in his voice.
"Yeah, I'm exhausted, man," he said. "I feel like I've got nothing else to give. I'm just glad that it's over and I got to get the final out."
Mike Timlin, by contrast, looked like he could celebrate all night. While Papelbon had won his first title, Timlin had added to his collection.
"I have four rings," he yelled in the clubhouse before asking a security guard if he could hold the World Series trophy.
He pitched to just two batters in Game 4, but they were as important as the five batters Papelbon sent down in order to end it. But then, as both of them pointed out, Boston's bullpen has been a group effort.
"I think that was a big part of the game," Papelbon said of Timlin's contribution. "He kept the momentum in our dugout. We couldn't have done it without everybody in our bullpen this year."
Said Timlin: "We worked as unit all year long, and we shut down a lot of people all year long. We put tremendous performances together all year long. This is just another one of them."
Papelbon certainly had the bulk of the workload recently. With his Game 4 performance added into the stats, he scattered five hits over 10 2/3 innings this postseason. Six of his seven postseason performances lasted more than an inning. Three of them required five outs or more. He finished off five games of Boston's seven-game winning streak to end the season, including saves in the final three World Series games.
"Come postseason and we're down, 3-1, the situation's going to dictate," pitching coach John Farrell said. "We're going to have our best reliever out on the mound. Because of the guidelines we abided by throughout the course of the year, it kept him healthy, kept him strong and made him available to us in multi-inning roles, even on back-to-back nights. Tonight, he had as good stuff tonight as he had all year, again."
The guidelines limited Papelbon's workload during the regular season. He worked more than an inning just four times in his 59 appearances, and not once after August 21. He made just five appearances after Sept. 14, while Farrell and manager Terry Francona rested him, using Hideki Okajima to close in certain situations.
But his postseason dominance wasn't simply about his strength. His ability to work calmly through some of the tightest of situations helped the diffusion of some dangerous jams, including Rockies rallies on back-to-back nights here at Coors Field.
He entered in the eighth inning on Sunday to hold onto a one-run lead following Garrett Atkins' two-run homer. He got out of the eighth-inning predicament when Coco Crisp made a running catch in left-center field, then benefited from another stellar catch for the second out of the ninth when Jacoby Ellsbury corralled Jamey Carroll's deep drive to the wall in left.
Even if the ball had fallen in, however, there was a feeling that Papelbon controlled the game. That's the feeling that the Red Sox have gotten from him all postseason.
"I just went one pitch at a time, man, and I tried to just slow the game down," he said. "The ball bounced our way this time."
Once Smith swung and missed, it was euphoria.
"Unbelievable," Papelbon said. "Unbelievable. I can't even describe it. It's a culmination of a lot of things, me not being able to pitch the last month and a half of the season last year and then going all the way to the World Series this year. It's just the culmination of a lot of things."
Timlin can relate. The 41-year-old missed more than a month this season on the disabled list before working his way back into the bullpen picture. His ERA for the year was over 5.00 as late as July 5, but he worked his way back into the picture.
With both Papelbon and Hideki Okajima stretched out in the postseason, Timlin's role hasn't always been the same. Yet when Cory Sullivan's pinch-hit single brought the potential tying run to the plate in the seventh, in came Timlin to face the top of the Rockies' order, sending down both Kazuo Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki swinging at fastballs in the low 90s.
It wasn't adrenaline he was feeling. It was calm.
"I was able to take a deep breath, take a step back and relax," Timlin said. "I was a little more nervous today than yesterday, but that's because there was a possibility of clinching. It makes it very special that I was able to be part of the game."
He wasn't the only one who felt that way for him.
"To see what he's worked back and then to maintain not only his physical health, but he became a very dependable reliever and really a main guy for us," Farrell said. "The two strikeouts he got tonight for us I think put this entire year into light and culminated all the work he's gone through.
"He's had a tremendous career. I think there's still more in the tank left for him."
Timlin has been in Papelbon's position before, at least from the standpoint of winning titles early in his career. When he was part of Toronto's back-to-back titles in 1992 and '93, he thought he could get there most every year. Once the Blue Jays' reign ended, and his postseason trips in Seattle and St. Louis ended short of the Fall Classic, he knew what those early titles meant.
His run in Boston has now doubled his ring total.
"When you win early in your career, you don't really realize what you've done," he said. "A lot of these kids won't really realize what they've done until a year or two from now. The good thing about it is we have veterans on the club who will show them how special this is."
Papelbon already seemed to have a sense. The exhaustion in him let him know.
"Relief," he said. "The stress and everything that goes along with it, it's just relief."