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July 22, 2013

Would the next Jonathan Papelbon please stand up for Sox?

BOSTON — With Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in baseball history, in town this weekend, it’s a perfect time to reflect on the importance of the closer job and who could become the next long term answer in that spot for the Boston Red Sox.

The closer role shouldn’t be underestimated. It certainly shouldn’t be among Red Sox fans, who have seen bust after bust pitch in that situation since Jonathan Papelbon left town following 2011.

“Having such a solid pitcher at the back of your bullpen makes all the difference,” Yankees shutdown setup man David Robertson said when discussing Rivera’s greatness. “You have someone that 90 percent of the time is going to lock the game down, you definitely want that guy on your team.”

Since Papelbon’s departure to the Phillies via free agency and even before he left, the Red Sox have tried tirelessly to find his heir apparent. Bobby Jenks, Andrew Bailey, Alfredo Aceves, Mark Melancon and Joel Hanrahan have all failed.

The Red Sox won’t find the next Rivera, who consistently has done the job well for 16 of the past 17 years with the only exception being last year when he tore his ACL. The Sandman is one of a kind. He has an all-time major league record 638 saves (entering yesterday) and has converted 91 percent of his saves (423 of 464) since the beginning of 2002.

The object for Boston GM Ben Cherington is to find someone who can covert approximately 90 percent of saves over a five-or-six year period.

“The kind of mentality they need to have is a short memory,” Rivera said. “They have to learn with the adversity because you’re going to fail. You’re going to fail as a closer, as a hitter, as a starter, as a reliever. It’s how you respond; how you regroup yourself right after you fail.

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