NEW YORK -- The long arm of the law reached into the Boston Red Sox clubhouse Tuesday afternoon when Jonathan Papelbon learned he had been suspended for three games by CSI: MLB, the commissioner's office deciding Papelbon was guilty of "inappropriate actions, including making contact'' with plate umpire Tony Randazzo following his ejection Saturday.
MLB almost never announces whether it has disciplined its umpires, a matter of some interest in certain precincts, there being sentiment that Randazzo had been a provocateur, coming out from behind the plate after Papelbon had already turned his back. Or as one emailer complained Tuesday night, "When will they ever suspend an ump for egging a player on?''
However, this being America, where due process gets its, well, due, Papelbon has the right to appeal, which kept him in uniform for Boston's second visit of the season to the Bronx. That became a matter of some importance for the Red Sox when the New York Yankees remained within striking distance entering the bottom of the ninth, trailing by three runs.
Papelbon still being a free man, Red Sox manager Terry Francona was able to summon him into the proceedings, even if the Bronx crowd of 48,450 treated his entrance like he was making a perp walk, a la Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Papelbon inflamed the locals' passions even more by walking pinch hitter Brett Gardner, then falling behind 3-and-1 to Derek Jeter, whose every hit now is part of a personal countdown to history (3,000 hits).
Papelbon, despite being under indictment, was the one who wound up staking a claim to history. The save Tuesday night was the 200th of his career, a number he reached faster than any other reliever in history. Papelbon got there in 359 appearances. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera did it in 382. Since becoming the Sox closer in 2006, Papelbon has more saves than any other closer except Francisco Rodriguez (225).
With the all-time saves record being north of 500, this was something of an artificial to-do, and to Papelbon's credit, he didn't lay it on too thick, other than to pay homage to Rivera, the closer he calls "The Godfather."
"This is something that is obviously very special to me,'' he said, "but after all is said and done, I'll think about it a little bit tonight and tomorrow move forward, keep doing what I'm doing.''
Asked what mementoes he intended to preserve from the occasion, Papelbon gave a properly irreverent answer.
"The lineup card and the ball,'' he said. "I'll put it in the trophy cabinet I don't have. Hopefully, my dog won't eat this one.''
You might recall that after the Sox won the World Series in 2007, Papelbon insisted that his canine chewed up the game ball. The veracity of that claim has always been treated with considerable skepticism, especially since it made for a hilarious counterpoint to the controversy that had erupted after the 2004 Series, when first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz got into a tug-of-war with the ballclub over ownership of the clinching ball.
Papelbon on Tuesday demonstrated anew that the occasional fib is as much a part of his repertoire as his splitter, insisting before the game to a reporter that he had not yet learned whether he would be facing any discipline for his actions Saturday in Fenway Park, leading the reporter to suggest that perhaps he would escape unpunished. Papelbon insisted otherwise, never letting on that he already knew.
"You tried to sneak a piece of cheese by the rat,'' he said. "You can't do that.''
That is not to suggest that Papelbon was in any way amused by the suspension, which came after he'd been interviewed by baseball disciplinarian Joe Garagiola Jr., who announced his decision -- and Papelbon's decision to appeal -- about two hours before Tuesday's game.
In reality, Papelbon considers the suspension an irksome piece of business, although he insisted it did not affect his focus for Tuesday night's game. "No, not one bit,'' he said.
He said he was unaware of when his appeal will be heard -- that will be handled by another of Joe Torre's lieutenants, John McHale -- although he's hopeful of a reduction.
"I'm not really concerned about that process,'' he said. "It will unfold the way it will unfold. I got to speak my side, which I've done, and now move forward. There's nothing else to say or do. Just let Joe Torre and MLB figure it out.''
And for those imagining that Papelbon wants to see umpire Randazzo also pay a price, the pitcher insisted he wasn't looking for punishment to be meted out.
"No, I don't think he should or shouldn't be punished,'' Papelbon said of Randazzo. "It's a matter of the situation. I could care less if they do anything.''
As long as whatever they do to him takes place after he leaves New York.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.