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Papelbon has heater, stays cool

Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, just 25 years old, leads the majors with six saves.
Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, just 25 years old, leads the majors with six saves. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)

He has his own theme music now. ''Bodies," by Drowning Pool.

'' 'Let the bodies hit the floor,' something like that," Jonathan Papelbon said yesterday after stuffing the Seattle Mariners with another 1-2-3 ninth in a 3-2 Red Sox victory. ''I think the fans were more worried about my entrance song than I was. They can send in suggestions if they have some."

For now, it's ''Bodies," which never will be mistaken for ''Three Coins in the Fountain" or ''American Pie." Don't even try dancing to it or humming a few bars. Rodgers & Hammerstein, it ain't.

We don't know much about the kid's theme music, but we know that the Red Sox suddenly have a closer who's got more saves than anyone in baseball. Rookie Papelbon, who was a potential starter when he arrived in Fort Myers -- who had one save in his professional career before this season -- leads the majors with six saves after only 12 games of 2006.

He's been perfect. In seven appearances, he's allowed zero runs, only two hits, no walks, and he's fanned six. The first-place Red Sox have won eight games and he has pitched in seven of those. Three of his saves came in 2-1 games. Yesterday's was a 3-2 game. Another was a 5-3 game.

It's enough to make you wonder if the Sox can ever take him out of the role.

''We still think his future is as a starter and a very good one," said general manager Theo Epstein. ''But certainly it would be foolish to mess with success now."

Curt Schilling, who's had two of his wins saved by the kid, has envisioned Papelbon as a starter since the first time he saw him pitch. But the big lug thinks Papelbon is getting some invaluable education pitching in this role early in his career.

''This is a huge advantage for a young guy," said Schill. ''He's getting to pitch in high-leverage ballgames without having to worry about the first seven or eight innings. That's usually a learned skill and he's getting a chance to do it out of the gate. It's not like he's been getting in there with three-run leads. And he feeds off the fans.

''The ultimate for our team is to get Foulkie back in there because the thought of [Papelbon] getting 235 innings is great. But that's not what this team needs right now."

Papelbon's day got off to a rough start. Early in the afternoon, playing catch in the outfield with Mike Timlin, he took a ball off his left shin and was limping for a while.

''It got me, man," said Papelbon, who says ''man" a lot. ''Really hurt. I was still waking up, I guess. But I was OK by the time I got to the mound in the ninth inning."

Papelbon appearances at Fenway are already the stuff of folklore. The Sox haven't had a young closer like this since Dick Radatz, and Boston's team was dreadful when Radatz set the club rookie record for saves (24) in 1962. With a couple of weeks left in this month, Papelbon is closing in on the big league record for April saves by a rookie (Mike MacDougal had nine for the Royals in 2003).

Would he be disappointed if he holds on to this role for the rest of his major league life?

''No, I wouldn't," said the affable 25-year-old. ''I get a lot of satisfaction out of closing. Whenever Tito gives me the ball, I just go out there and throw my heart out."

He was born in Baton Rouge but played his high school ball in Jacksonville, Fla. He didn't pitch much until he got to college (Mississippi State) and coaches were impressed by the way he gunned the ball across the infield when he was playing first base. There are a lot of pitches left in his arm and many of them will travel more than 95 miles an hour. He needed only 12 pitches to retire the Mariners yesterday.

Someday he'll start. He must. The Sox envisioned him as one of their seven potential starters during the offseason. Now, of course, there are only four of those starters because Bronson Arroyo was traded, David Wells is on the disabled list, and Papelbon is too valuable to be released from bullpen duty. For now.

''I think he pitches off of emotion a lot, like a lot of pitchers do," said manager Terry Francona, who made the bold (and now so obvious) switch from Keith Foulke to Papelbon on the night of the third game of the season in Texas. ''You worry about young guys sometimes, that they get too emotional and don't stay with what they are supposed to do. He just seems to use it to his advantage."

And the bodies are hitting the floor.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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