Cy of relief?

Let’s get this argument right out of the way. He’s going to win the Rookie of the Year, a debate about as up in the air as John Madden’s entourage.

MVP? George King. Forget it.

Cy Young? Right now, there’s no way you can’t consider him a candidate.

Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon has leapt from the realm of simply bursting on the scene to logging one of the most dominant relief seasons ever, and he could (should?) become the first American League closer to win the Cy Young since Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley in 1992.

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Eric Gagne, of course, won the NL Cy Young in 2003.

At the rate Papelbon is going, those seasons are going to look minor in comparison.

Gagne’s Cy Young season and Eckersley’s 1990 season (in which teammate Bob Welch won the Cy) are widely considered among the two best seasons for closers in the game. The numbers:

Eck: 4-2, 77 1/3 innings, 0.61 ERA, 48 saves, 73 strikeouts, four walks
Gagne: 2-3, 82 1/3 innings, 1.20 ERA, 55 saves, 137 strikeouts, 20 walks

Through 34 1/3 innings of work this season, Papelbon has racked up 22 saves, has struck out 34, walked just four, and has allowed a grand total of one earned run all season for an ERA of…no misprint, 0.25.

Zero-point-two-five.

It’s scary how many similarities Papelbon’s season has to that of Eckersley’s legendary 1990 campaign (except for the four walks all season, a number which is just mind-boggling). Eckersley is the last AL pitcher to win both the MVP and Cy Young Awards in the same year. No NL pitcher has won both since Bob Gibson in 1968.

But if Pedro Martinez isn’t going to take home the MVP because of the George King-Lavelle Neal ruling, then Papelbon has virtually no shot, or about as much as David Ortiz.

As it stands now, it’s arguably a five-way race for the AL Cy Young, with Jose Contreras, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Papelbon, and Roy Halladay tossing their caps into the ring (with arguments withstanding for Johan Santana, Barry Zito, and a handful of others). That’s pretty hefty competition, but let’s not overlook the one dominant factor in Papelbon’s favor: The kid is THE talk of baseball right now. He’s the guy out of town reporters flock to, the rising star who’s a lock for the All-Star Game, the first AL rookie All-Star since Jeff Zimmerman in 1999 (Dontrelle Willis was an NL All-Star in 2003).

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He’s a sure thing in the ninth. Even if there is anything but building the bridge to get to him oftentimes.

The Red Sox mark for most saves in a season is 46 by Tom Gordon in 1998. Easily within reach. He’s well on his way to the best season a closer has ever had in Boston. Rookie of the Year is a given and the Cy Young is well within reach.

We’re not making an argument for MVP, but just wait. Papelbon may yet do that for us.