A hoard of reporters had engulfed the Red Sox's clubhouse, eager to speak with the closer. But Papelbon had no intention of talking, at least not yet. After the most deflating outing of his Major League career, he was going to take all the time he needed to collect his thoughts following a 7-6 loss to the Angels on Sunday afternoon.
Entering the ninth inning of Sunday's game at Fenway Park, Papelbon had not allowed a run in 26 career innings of masterful postseason work. He recorded the final out of the eighth, and the Red Sox carried a 6-4 lead into the ninth. After Papelbon secured the first two outs of the frame, all signs pointed to a Game 4 of the American League Division Series being played on Monday.
Then came the Angels.
In a matter of minutes, baserunners multiplied. Erick Aybar singled, Chone Figgins walked and Bobby Abreu drilled an RBI double to left field. Following an intentional walk to Torii Hunter that loaded the bases, Vladimir Guerrero put the Halos on top with a ringing two-run single to center field.
It ended Papelbon's sterling streak, and ultimately, the Red Sox's season.
When he finally addressed reporters, the pitcher spoke with a heavy heart.
"Things happened quick, and I wasn't able to stop the bleeding," Papelbon said. "Your team fights to put you in that situation to call upon you, and you let them down. It's a feeling that there's a lot of weight on your shoulders, because your team expects you to pull through and preserve that win. When you don't, it's definitely not a good feeling."
All good things ...
For Papelbon, perhaps it was a dose of reality setting in at precisely the worst time.
"You do it all season, and you've done it time and time again previously in the postseason, but I just wasn't able to come out ahead this time," Papelbon said. "These types of moments stick with you more than the types of moments when you preserve those wins, because they tend to sink a little bit deeper."
Papelbon's teammates made it known that Sunday's loss would not be pinned on their All-Star right-hander.
"That's why it's the toughest job in baseball," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "If you get the save, everyone's supposed to do that, but if you don't, everyone points the finger. There's no one who we'd rather have the ball than him."
"You feel for him, because these are the moments when everyone wants to do well," third baseman Mike Lowell said. "There's so much at stake, and there's such a big reward at the end. We'll never hesitate to give him the ball."
Truth be told, the Red Sox did not advance to the AL Championship Series for a number of reasons. Papelbon's struggles were not at the forefront of those.
"He comes in for one inning," first baseman Kevin Youkilis said. "You can't put it all on him. It's a team game. You have to blame everyone around and look everyone in the eye. It's not just Jonathan that gave up the runs. There's other things that contributed to us not winning. That's the bottom line."
As Papelbon ventures into an early offseason he never anticipated, he will do so with Sunday's performance fresh in his mind. Failure has always driven him to improve, and that won't change now.
"When the season is over, and it ends like it did today, you definitely, definitely remember those situations when you're in the weight room getting ready to come back and prepare for the next season," Papelbon said. "Who knows? I might replay this on the TV in my weight room this offseason and get a little bit of motivation.
"The biggest thing is not being able to finish the job at hand. I'm definitely going to use this to make me work harder for next year. This is something I'm going to take on my shoulders."
John Barone is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.