Monday, December 11, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon excited about first spring training with Phillies

CLEARWATER — Jonathan Papelbon still wears red and boasts the same stone-cold stare, a picture of intensity who thrives on pressure.

"That's what makes me tick, man," he said. "This is an environment I enjoy."

But as Papelbon, 31, the former long-time Red Sox closer, entered his first Phillies camp as one of the game's richest relievers (four years, $50 million), he said the change of scenery has made him more excited than he has been at any spring training.

Rejuvenated by the chance to begin a "new chapter" in his career, the four-time All-Star seems to have already put his time in Boston behind him, including capping off the club's historic September collapse with a blown save in Game 162.

"I don't think about that at all, man," Papelbon said in a packed news conference at Bright House Field. "When I was a rookie and made my first All-Star Game, I had a chance to talk to Mo (Yankees closer Mariano Rivera) about what's the biggest thing that's going to make me successful in this game, and he said, 'Short-term memory.'

"You've got to be able to learn from the situation, but I don't sit there and think about it. You've got to be able to turn the page."

And as much as Papelbon enjoyed battles with the Yankees and Rays in the rugged American League East, setting a Red Sox record with 219 saves in seven seasons, he flashed a rare smile Saturday in saying he's more than ready to stare down new faces in the batter's box.

"To be honest with you," he said, "there were really some days I was sitting there, saying, 'Okay, I've got to face (Derek) Jeter again. He's seen everything I've got. I've seen everything he's got.' It brings a little bit of life to me this year, being in a new clubhouse and being able to face new guys."

Papelbon felt early in free agency that he'd be leaving the only franchise he has ever known. His last memory was of giving up two runs in the ninth inning of a 4-3 loss to Baltimore, sealing the Red Sox's free fall from nine games up in the AL wild-card race and catapulting the Rays into the playoffs. But Papelbon didn't seem to buy into the reports of teammates lacking a work ethic (among other things) in a 7-20 September.

"Nobody truly knows what was truly going on," he said. "I don't truly know because I'm worried about myself and doing my own job. Just because somebody struggles or a team struggles doesn't mean someone's not doing what they're supposed to be doing.

"Is that why we lost? No. That's not why we lost because of what was going on in the clubhouse. That had nothing to do about it. I never saw (anything) or had to go up to somebody (and say), 'Get your act together.' "

Papelbon believes Boston will bounce back, saying it has too many competitors to "lay down." He sees drive and professionalism in the Phillies clubhouse, which, like Boston's, "seems like every other locker there's a superstar in it." Though Papelbon will get to save games for a much-hyped rotation, he hasn't allowed himself to think about a potential matchup with his former team in the World Series.

"But," Papelbon said with a grin, "I do know when we play the Red Sox."

That will come May 18-20, an interleague series in Philadelphia.

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]

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