Who are the best closers in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5
For 86 years, the job of the Red Sox closer was never to be the last man standing. Nearly a century of futility meant none of them had a chance to record the final out of the World Series, because the Red Sox always found ways to lose on the rare occasions they got there at all.
That was true of Ellis Kinder, one of baseball's first closers, and it was true of the Monster, Dick Radatz, too. It stayed that way until Keith Foulke stabbed a grounder in 2004, unleashing a new era in team history. Since that day, four men have tossed the last out of a World Series, and two of them are on this list.
One name you won't find: Craig Kimbrel. A three-time All-Star during his Red Sox career, Kimbrel recorded 108 saves in a Boston uniform, but for our money, these five men were better.
5. Ellis Kinder
They called him Old Folks because he didn't debut until age 31 and he didn't retire until he was just shy of 43, but in between, Kinder sure made up for lost time.
An accomplished starter early in his career — he went 23-6 with a league-leading six shutouts for the Red Sox in 1949 en route to a fifth-place finish in the MVP race — Kinder converted to relief in 1951 and helped redefine the role. He went 11-2 with a league-leading 16 saves in 1951, and two years later he tied a big-league record by recording 27 saves. All told, he saved 93 games in a Red Sox uniform, twice finishing in the top 11 of the MVP race as a reliever.
He lived hard and was known as a carouser off the field, which contributed to an early death at age 54 following open-heart surgery.
4. Koji Uehara
Talk about coming out of nowhere. When the 2013 season opened, Uehara was simply a middle man, albeit a curiously talented one. Signed the previous December in a transaction that barely caused a ripple, Uehara was pressed into duty as a closer when the first two candidates — former All-Stars Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey — broke down. What Uehara did thereafter fit right in on a magical team.
The exuberant right-hander barely broke 90 mph, but he introduced the masses to the concept of spin rate, which helped explain what made his splitter so unhittable. Blessed with pinpoint control, Uehara struck out 101 and walked only nine in 2013 while posting a 1.09 ERA. He stayed unhittable right through the final out of the World Series, celebrating Boston's first championship at Fenway Park in nearly 100 years.
He spent three more years in Boston, remaining effective and earning his first All-Star berth at age 39 in 2014.
3. Bob Stanley
Stanley was by no means a typical closer, even for the 1970s and '80s. He relied primarily on a sinker, threw one of the nastiest (and only?) palm balls in the game, and was built like a plumber. But he could throw all day.
The Maine native spent his entire 13-year career in Boston and made a pair of All-Star teams, including one in 1979 as a starter. But Stanley rose to fame as a rubber-armed closer. In 1983, he tossed 168.1 innings of relief, a number topped only by Mike Marshall all-time. He owned the franchise saves record when he retired (132), and he came agonizingly close to ending the World Series jinx in 1986, but he got crossed up with catcher Rich Gedman on a crucial passed ball in the 10th inning of Game 6 before allowing Mookie Wilson's dribbler behind the first base bag to end it.
The Steamer was known for smashing beachballs with a bullpen rake and he wore his heart on his sleeve.
2. Dick Radatz
The Monster was a fan favorite known for his imposing 6-foot-6 stature, his dominance of Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle, and his demonstrative celebration after each save, massive arms thrust over his massive head. He was also one of the only shows in town during the fallow period between the near-misses of 1948 and 1949 and the Impossible Dream season of 1967.
Over his first three seasons before burning out, Radatz averaged 13 wins and 25 saves while posting a 2.17 ERA. He also struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings, an unheard of rate for the era. He made two All-Star teams and set a single-season record for strikeouts by a reliever (181) that still stands while throwing an overpowering fastball that led to 12 strikeouts in 16 lifetime at-bats vs. Mantle.
Radatz settled in Easton after his career and hosted a talk show on WEEI until his death in 2005.
1. Jonathan Papelbon
He arrived in 2005 declaring that he planned on breaking Mariano Rivera's records and he left after the 2011 collapse to sign a $50 million contract with the Phillies, but if there's one thing Papelbon needn't worry about, it's his legacy in Boston.
He saved a franchise-record 219 games, and he didn't just put up empty numbers. Papelbon nearly lasted his entire career without giving up a run in the postseason, putting up zeroes in 2005, 2007, and 2008 before finally blowing a game against the Angels in the 2009 ALDS. He went 2-1 with a 1.00 ERA in 18 playoff appearances, and he was on the mound when the Red Sox closed out the Rockies in 2007. The 6-foot-5 right-hander may not have been quite as physically imposing as Radatz, but when he stared in for a sign, he did so with malice.
His alter ego, Cinco Ocho, was another story, Riverdancing in his underwear to celebrate the postseason and enjoying the good life.