Jonathan Papelbon 'excited' for Phillies
Baseball's highest-paid reliever is accustomed to lofty expectations after spending seven seasons with the Boston Red Sox and insists a change of scenery and the $50 million, four-year contract he signed this winter shouldn't make his job with his new team any more difficult.
Stark: Papelbon Can't Escape Past
New Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon spent Day 1 at camp talking about ... his old team, the Boston Red Sox, writes ESPN.com's Jayson Stark. Story
"I like pressure. That what makes me tick, man," the 30-year-old closer said Saturday on the eve of the Phillies' first spring training workout for pitchers and catchers. "I'm excited."
Making the playoffs hasn't been a problem for the Phillies, who have won five consecutive NL East titles and enter 2012 as the team to beat in the division. But ultimately, manager Charlie Manuel and his players know the club will be judged on whether they get back to the World Series -- and win it.
Since winning it all in 2008, Philadelphia has regressed in the postseason -- returning to the World Series but losing to the New York Yankees in 2009, falling short in the NL Championship Series in 2010 and exiting in the divisional round last year after winning a franchise-record 102 games in the regular season.
Papelbon, who won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2007, said club and fan expectations are similar in Boston and Philadelphia. That's one of the reasons he liked the idea of joining the Phillies and doesn't feel the burden will be on him to get the team over the hump in the playoffs.
"There's not going to be one guy that comes in this clubhouse that's going to make a difference," said Papelbon, a four-time AL All-Star who had 219 saves with the Red Sox.
"I think every year you start fresh and you see what guys you have in your clubhouse and you really just try to get that team camaraderie as good as you can get and get everybody kind of pulling on the same rope in the same direction," he added. "If we're able to do that, we can do some special things. But like I said, no one guy's going to come in here and all of a sudden make it a World Series championship team."
Papelbon replaces Ryan Madson, who converted 32 of 34 save opportunities in 2011 in his first season as Philadelphia's closer. The right-hander had 31 saves in 2011, but also was on the mound when Boston completed a monumental collapse that allowed Tampa Bay to overcome a nine-game deficit in September to earn the AL wild-card spot on the final night of last season.
The reliever was one strike away from securing a win over Baltimore before yielding two runs in a 4-3 loss. After initially deadpanning that he thinks about that game "every day, all day," Papelbon quickly reversed field and said he's moved on from the disappointment.
He said a conversation he had early in his career with Yankees closer Mariano Rivera taught him how to deal with tough moments such as those.
"I don't think about it at all, man. It's something that when I was a rookie and I made my first All-Star Game I had a chance to talk with Mo about what's the biggest thing that's going to make me successful in this game. His first answer was 'short-term memory,' " Papelbon recalled. "You've got to be able to learn from the situation. But I don't sit there and think about it all spring. You go over things, you try to learn from them, but you've got to be able to turn the page."
Papelbon had little to offer about the Red Sox's collapse last September.
"Everybody has an opinion," he said, "but nobody truly knows what was going on. Just because a team struggles doesn't mean they're not supposed to be doing. I've always said winning cures everything, there's got to be a reason why you lose."
But when asked if a lax clubhouse environment, which was cited by a front-page story in the Boston Globe as a major cause, was the reason for the collapse, Papelbon said: "Is that why we lost? No. It's not because of what was going on in the clubhouse. That had nothing to do with it.
"I never saw ... I never had to go up to somebody and say, 'Get your act together.' "
Papelbon said he will miss the friendships he made in Boston, but is excited about getting to know a new group of teammates in Philadelphia. He likes the idea of facing new hitters, instead of those he's grown accustomed to facing year after year, and is looking forward to the NL style of baseball.
He'll miss all those Yankees-Red Sox battles for supremacy in the AL East, but is eager to get into the NL East rivalries the Phillies have with Atlanta and the New York Mets.
He even could wind up facing his old team this summer when Philadelphia and Boston meet in interleague play.
"It's hard not to look ahead. It's the human characteristic that comes into play," Papelbon said.
"But for me, I'm just looking to find my way in this clubhouse and with this ballclub. Do the best I can do, one day at a time," he added. "I know it sounds cliche. But that's what I have to do to stay focused on my job at hand.
"But I do know when we play the Red Sox."
Although his experience and contract might suggest Papelbon will be the leader of the unit, the closer insisted he doesn't view his arrival that way.
"I don't really look at it as I'm taking over a leadership role. I look at it like I'm bringing my style, my work ethic and the way I compete to a bullpen," Papelbon said.
"I'm not going to sit here and try to tell one guy this is going to work over the other because everybody's different. For me, I'm simply going to go there, do what I do best. If somebody wants to ask me a question or follow suit, I've got no problem with it. But I try to lead by example."
Information from ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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