PENNSAUKEN, N.J. -- Andrew Bailey has dealt with Jonathan Papelbon's pain. It is, after all, the sort of affliction only closers can truly understand.
On July 9, 2011, he was smacked in the face with the reality that comes with being a major league closer when the then-Oakland Athletics' reliever watched Josh Hamilton launch a 95 mph, 2-0 fastball into the right field seats at The Ballpark in Arlington, 425 feet away from home plate.
"I was like, 'That was really, really far,'" Bailey remembered while preparing for his The Bailey Bowl, a charity event to support the Strike 3 Foundation. "I was really pissed when it happened, but the next day we were kind of joking about it and trying to throw balls up into the stands where it landed and we couldn't even reach it.
"That one hurt because we were losing and it was right before the All-Star break and we were still kind of in it, we had a lot of expectations as a team, we were just kind of falling short in the first half last year. That was right before the All-Star break and we were like, 'Let's win this one and start the second half.' I think we were seven games back with a whole half to go. We had some guys coming back from injury. That was a tough one to swallow because I had to sit on that for a couple of days. That was a tough one, but like I said, you have to move on."
A few months later, Bailey sat in the Safeco Field visitors bullpen, sneaking peaks at Papelbon's last bout of misery as a member of the Red Sox. It was that Sept. 28 night in Baltimore that the then-Sox closer allowed the Orioles three straight two-out hits to end his team's season.
"We were in Seattle and they have the bar back there. We were both out of it and both bullpens are watching the monitors, watching our game, watching the monitors. It has to be tough. That's a tough one to swallow," Bailey said. "I kind of come from the same breed as him. It's my fault. There's nobody else but me to wear it. I threw the pitch. That's how I am. He moved on, I'm sure. I'm sure he's excited about the opportunity to pitch in Philly. It's a great city. Fans will treat him good. He's got to move on. It stinks, but the sun comes up the next morning."
The only time the two have been put side-by-side is at the '09 All-Star Game, and that image only portrayed a wide-eyed rookie (Bailey) mingling among the been-there-before closer (Papelbon).
"We kind of sat next to each other. He's a good dude. I love his style, man," Bailey said. "Attack the strike zone, all or nothing. It's an all-or-nothing mentality, and that's how I like to be."
The same breed.
That's how I like to be.
This raises a question Bailey understands is unavoidable as he eases into his new life as the first pitcher in six seasons not named "Papelbon" to carry the title of full-time Boston Red Sox closer: How similar is he to Jonathan Papelbon?
The baseball world looks at the boy-next-door 27-year-old from southern New Jersey and the 31-year-old wild child who reeks of Southern bravado in the same light. They are closers, and they aren't shy of failure.
“You can’t be afraid. If you’re the least bit afraid, they see it. It shows up on your face immediately, and hitters, they're like sharks," said former big league closer Mitch Williams. "Every time I walked out there, I didn’t think I could be beat. That’s the way you have to approach it. That and a short memory."
Papelbon spent his tenure in Boston displaying an uncanny ability to limit the sting of defeat to just a few hours. He understood the deal: When a save is blown, there is the immediate digestion, the obligatory explanation to the media and an uneven night of sleep. Then everything starts over.
Bailey knows the progression. That's why he was out throwing balls into the stands on July 10.
"I grew up a fan of booing people, giving people a hard time," said Bailey, who was raised a fan of the Phillies, living just minutes away from their home park. "The name of the game is winning. I grew up in that with all the sports. I'm still like that with the Eagles. So, I know what it's about, and it's nice to have that pressure. For once, I'm excited to contend every single year, excited about the opportunity to win another World Series, bring another title to Titletown, so they say. I'm all about that, man. That's why we play the game is to win. I'm all for that pressure. I'm a guy that goes right after people. Lot of fastballs, try to spot up, and let them try to put the bat on the ball. I'm not going to be scared of anybody, scared of any fields, scared of any fans behind me, because the way I look at it is, before all the Red Sox fans were against me, now they're for me, and I've got a Nation behind my back."
Papelbon and Bailey both clearly relish all that comes with the job. For the former Red Sox closer, that was made perfectly clear in the 2007 spring training when he marched into then-Red Sox manager Terry Francona's office and told him starting wasn't for him, he was a closer.
Bailey's choice was made clear even earlier than Papelbon's declaration.
"Well, in Little League, when you were in the minor leagues -- and I coached him in tee-ball, minor leagues and then major leagues when he was 12 -- he was the kid that you saved for the last three innings," said Bailey's father, Bill. "In the minors, you only pitched three innings a game, and we used to save him for the fourth, fifth and sixth. And he caught the first, second and third because the important thing in the minors was to be able to catch the ball and pitch the ball without giving up 10 walks, and he always had control. He'd walk a few people, but I can't remember -- he'd strike out four times as many as he would walk, and that was because he could get the ball over the plate. When he was 12, he actually could hit, but he never wanted to. When he was 14 and 15, he'd play because he could catch the ball at first. He would make the play, but he always wanted to bat ninth. I couldn't even buy him a bat. He'd use somebody else's."
The minds may be different ("I was never accused of being all there, but [Papelbon] might be more evacuated than I am," noted Williams), but the mindsets are seemingly very much the same.
Dustin Pedroia went on WEEI and did the unthinkable -- he compared Bailey's cutter to the granddaddy of all cutters, the one belonging to Mariano Rivera.
"It's a very good compliment," the new Red Sox closer said when told of the proclamation. "I would never compare myself to Mariano. I'm trying to be him, so to speak. He's the best in the game, and by no means do I compare myself to him. If somebody says I have a pitch that acts like his, well that's fantastic because he's the greatest ever and hopefully I can do half the things he has done.
"I try to emulate him. Something that gets right off the barrel, looks like a fastball and all of a sudden it's off the end of the bat for a little pop-up or ground ball. That's what I try and do."
Bailey isn't alone in attempting to copy the Yankees closer. Whether it was because of the pitch, or the personality, virtually every late-inning reliever has looked up to the pitcher Papelbon dubbed "The Godfather" long ago.
But what might come as some surprise is that Bailey also picked another closer when looking for a carbon copy version of who he wanted to be -- Papelbon.
"[Rivera] is the Godfather of closers, and that's kind of who I emulated my rookie year. I didn't have any video of guys. I had a little cutter kind of like his and I tried to morph it into him. That one pitch. I would take Papelbon's fastball, try to blow it by guys up in the zone and I would try and use Mo's cutter. I would watch video on those guys because I didn't have any video of any hitters," he explained. "'OK, we've got Torii Hunter coming up, how am I going to face him? Let's see what Mo and Pap did.' That's two of the best in the game at the time. That's how I did, just watch the video until I had my own stuff."
When it comes to mirroring, Bailey has done a pretty good job, and it's not only with the cutter.
According to BaseballAnalytics.org, no pitcher has thrown more ninth-inning fastballs since the beginning of the 2009 season than Papelbon, with Bailey having tossed the 15th most. But it is the new Red Sox closer who, among full-time closers, has the best batting average against when it comes to fastballs in the ninth over that span (.158).
It is a fastball that Bailey has actually thrown three times as much in the ninth as his vaunted cutter, which has had a .205 batting average against in that frame.
Nobody in the history of the Red Sox managed to live the life of the team's closer as long as Papelbon. And during those six seasons, he managed to perform with great aplomb, eventually landing in Philadelphia with a four-year, $50 million deal.
Bailey has performed as a closer just three years, and, mostly due to injuries, has not lived quite at the level of his predecessor.
But now is his chance. Until told differently, he has found himself with a title made prestigious by Papelbon -- closer for the Boston Red Sox. The question is whether he can do what just one other Red Sox pitcher has managed, close out games in Boston for 1 1/2 Presidential terms.
"Pap came before me in Boston and I hope you guys have to ask that question to the next guy that follows me," Bailey said. "That's all I can do is go out there and do my thing. Not to make them forget about him, but make my own name. He's a totally different guy, a totally different person. For me it's about winning. If I win and succeed you guys will be asking that question about the guy coming in my footsteps.
"I'm looking forward to the opportunity to challenge, because I'm always going to have those questions, and I know that. Three or four years down the road, Papelbon is always going to come before me, and I know that. All I can do is go out there and do my thing. From Day 1 go out and try and dominate, and that's all I'm going to try and do."