Former Red Sox and current Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, in an interview on WEEI’s Hot Stove show with Rob Bradford and guest co-host John McDonald (who played with Papelbon in Philadelphia in 2013 before getting traded to the Red Sox in August) on Thursday, said that he followed his former team’s postseason run enthusiastically. He suggested that he was unsurprised by his team’s ultimate success, both on the basis of the leadership provided by former teammates Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz as well as the dominance of Koji Uehara.
“I watched every game of the World Series, every inning, every pitch. I loved it, man. I was calling pitches when Koji was in there — you know how you do when you’re watching games, ‘He’s going to go to this’ or ‘He’s going to go to that.’ I tell you what, I was pulling for them,” said Papelbon. “I knew, I don’t want to say this now, but I knew they were going to win. I knew what that clubhouse was like. I knew what was probably going on before the games, how it was, I knew what kind of leadership they had over there with David and Dustin. I just knew, if I was a betting man, I would have bet on them. But I’m not a betting man. I was happy for them. Dustin’s one of my best friends in the game. I couldn’t have been happier.”
Papelbon is now connected in both Red Sox and baseball history with Uehara, as both pitchers have recorded the final out of the World Series for the Red Sox, with Papelbon and Uehara having accomplished the feat six years apart as the culmination of dominant postseasons. Papelbon described his colleague as having been a pivotal force in October. “I’m obviously biased. I thought he was the difference-maker and the reason why the Red Sox won the World Series. I truly do,” said Papelbon. “He did what he was supposed to do and put the team on his back. He was in that groove. He was just feeling it. As an athlete, when you start to feel that, it doesn’t really matter what you throw or what you do. You’re just going to be good. That was it.”
As for his current Phillies team, Papelbon suggested that clubhouse dynamics were responsible for preventing the team’s players from translating ability into success during a 73-89 2013 season.
“On our team, I honestly believe we have more talent than any other roster out there. But if you don’t take that talent and mesh it together, figure out each others’ little pros and cons and figure out how to make a 25-man roster form into one, nothing will work. I don’t care how much you spend or how many guys you have in the bullpen or how many starters you have and it just doesn’t work,” said Papelbon. “Look at the Red Sox last year. John [McDonald] will probably tell you the moment he walked into the Red Sox clubhouse there was an entirely different feel from when he left Philly. I’m not putting those words in John’s mouth by any means, but when you have a group of guys who go for 162 games plus spring training plus the playoffs, you have to have each other’s backs and know what he’s going to do before the next guy from you is going to do before he does it.”
Papelbon made similar claims during the season with the Phillies, including a memorable midyear suggestion that he “didn’t come [to Philadelphia] for this.” McDonald said that he understood where the Phillies closer was coming from in making that claim. Papelbon, meanwhile, suggested that he’s made similar statements while with the Red Sox at times when his team struggled, but without the same response.
“I was a new guy coming into the Philadelphia clubhouse. Coming into a new clubhouse, you tend to watch more than you speak. I will say this, I came from a clubhouse where it was in your face, it was ‘this is how we’re going to do it.’ We’re going to yell at each other and when we don’t do what we’re expected of, we’re going to let you know. That’s kind of the way I was groomed into being a baseball player,” said Papelbon. “Then I go to Philadelphia and it wasn’t necessarily that way, and I know that I’ve gotten a bad rap, some of the guys will say I’m not a good clubhouse guy because I’ll get upset and I’ll say something, but I’ve always said what’s on my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever shied away from my beliefs. But I think some of it reporters in Philly maybe take a little bit different because I was used to saying that, hey, this is how I feel, we’re not winning and I’m not happy.”
Papelbon has two years and $26 million remaining on his contract, with a vesting option that could bring him an additional $13 million for the 2016 season if he finishes 100 games in the next two years or 55 in 2015. Though Papelbon has a 2.67 ERA, 67 saves, 10.2 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine innings in his first two years in Philly, concerns about declining stuff and his sizable contract have reportedly left the Phillies open to moving Papelbon.
“I think there’s a little bit of truth to every rumor,” Papelbon said of whether he thought there was substance to the reports of his availability. “I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
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