The closer’s role is to be the lights-out guy. The one who comes in, steps up and promptly squashes any hope the other team might have of staging a last-minute revival. He puts out the fire, quells the rebellion, and basically gets everyone out the door and back to their gin and hookers that much sooner.
A big part of the closer’s game is the intimidation factor. If you can generate a sense of ominous dread in the opposing players –a genuine sense of, “well, feck, this one’s over” — the minute the bullpen door swings open, half the battle is won.
So with that, we figgered we’d spend this Friday morning identifying the most intimidating Sox closer ever. And by “ever,” of course, we automatically discount players from any era in which we weren’t watching baseball. So there.
Jonathan Papelbon: In a few short years, the Bot has established himself as a star closer, cult hero and absolute whack-job–one of the few players in recent memory for whom there likely exists more footage of him sans pants than avec pants. This craziness, not to mention his nuclear fast ball, serves him well on the mound. I can’t imagine there isn’t a single batter who faces him who doesn’t wonder if Paps has been drinking before entering the game, which also helps. That said, as much as we love stuff like his Milli Vanilli vid, he’s a few more of those away from becoming “happy funny dancing guy.” And nobody’s afraid of “happy funny dancing guy.” Unless, of course, it’s Michael Jackson. Intimidation Factor (out of 10): 8
Keith Foulke: I’ve always said that Foulke looked a little too much like the frat guy down the hall to put the fear of God into batters. But it’s hard to dis a closer who literally poured everything he had into getting us through the 2004 postseason. His strikeout of Tony Clark to end game 6 of the ALCS was one of the most exhilarating Red Sox moments I’ve ever experienced, and he’ll always be remembered for snagging that final, all-hell-breaks-loose ground-out to end the 2004 World Series. A crafty pitcher, but not a terribly intimidating one. Still, we’ll always love him, no matter how many Burger King jokes he makes about us. Intimidation Factor: 6
Derek Lowe: Effective? Hell, yes. For a closer who didn’t rely on blowing batters away, Lowe saved 42 games in 2000 and 24 in 2001. Intimidating? Not unless you’re scared by the models in American Eagle ads. Intimidation Factor: 5
Heathcliff Slocumb: Not particularly intimidating. Not all that effective, either. But we did get to trade him for Tek and Lowe. So there’s that. Intimidation Factor: 5
Tom Gordon: Now Flash was an intimidating closer, wearing his hat down so low, you almost wondered if he was eventually gonna pull a Dumb Donald and just cut a couple eye-holes in the goddam thing and wear it like a mask. Also had a creepy way of staring in at the batter for a few seconds, his entire face shadowed by the cap rim. Also got name-checked in the title of a Stephen King novel, which easily boosts the intimidation cred. Intimidation Factor: 8
Rod Beck/Jeff Reardon: Good guys whose lives took unfortunate turns. Also, quite intimidating in a Deliverance sort of way. Never have a couple dudes who looked like roadies for the Allman Brothers Band accomplished so much on the diamond. Intimidation Factor: 6
Ugueth Urbina: When your off-season activities including attacking people with machetes, you’re gonna have a decided edge in the intimidation game. The way Urbina would stomp around the mound, pound his chest, scream at the ball/ump/imaginary-ghosts-that-seemed-to-haunt-him-everywhere-he-went could be a bit unsettling, and he always seemed to be one bad call or gopher ball away from setting the park on fire. Still remembered as one of the creepiest guys to ever don a Sox jersey–certainly the creepiest ever nicknamed “Oogie.” Intimidation Factor: 9
Lee Smith: Big and burly, Smith is remembered as one of the game’s greatest closers, although he was never particularly dominant during his Boston tenure, and actually gave up a home run in his first appearance in a Sox uni, taking the loss and sending yet another piece of our hearts down the tubes. Intimidation Factor: 7
Bob Stanley: With 132 total saves in his career with the Sox, Stanley wasn’t as bad as we seem to remember him as being. But his hangdog look, which screamed “postal worker” or “Uncle Pete from out of town,” was hardly the sort of thing that conjured fear in opposing teams. Intimidation Factor: 5
Ladies and gentlemen, your winner: