Red Sox manager Terry Francona has the choice of going to Papelbon in the ninth inning of a potential save situation in Tuesday's All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. Francona could also call on future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, who is having a brilliant season for the Yankees at the age of 39. There are also two other terrific closers on the AL squad in Joe Nathan (Twins) and Francisco Rodriguez (Angels).
Of course, Rivera is the sentimental favorite, considering where the game is being played. But what does Papelbon want his manager to do?
"If I said, 'Oh, I want to let Mariano do it,' that's not the competitive nature of Jonathan Papelbon, OK? But at the same time, I understand what it's about," Papelbon said. "I understand putting my time in in Major League Baseball and what it means to me and what the game means to me. I don't know what else to tell you."
In other words, the ultra-competitive Papelbon wants the ball in the ninth inning, but he has a pretty good inkling that he might not get it. And Papelbon made it clear he's at peace with whatever Francona decides.
"I would understand it," said Papelbon. "I think it would be kind of bull-headed of me and kind of selfish of me not to understand. I understand it. I fully understand what's going on here."
Francona was coy about the subject at his news conference, and Papelbon thinks there's a good reason for that.
"Honestly, and wholeheartedly, I don't think he's really made his mind up yet, I really don't," said Papelbon. "I told him, 'Tito, you go with your gut feeling, man. Go with your gut feeling and I'll roll with the punches -- regardless of whether it's me or Mariano.'"
As much as Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek loves finishing games with Papelbon on a consistent basis, he has a strong feeling that Rivera will get last call in the last All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.
"I think everybody knows what closer is going to be out there in the ninth inning," Varitek said. "I think [Francona] knows. Health aside, as long as the big man feels good, I think that he'll be out there. I can't say that for sure, but I think he'll probably be out there."
Why is that?
"Just the respect for what that man has done, and then the venue," Varitek said.
This is Papelbon's third full season in the Majors, and his third time on the All-Star team.
The fireballing righty has a 2.43 ERA and 28 saves this season.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.