Inside the Phillies: Papelbon gets the job done

Posted: April 05, 2012

PITTSBURGH - Closers are different.

That is a fact acknowledged by everyone who has ever set foot in a baseball clubhouse.

What's amazing is that they can be different in so many different ways.

"He's typical, I guess," Roy Halladay said Thursday after he combined with new closer Jonathan Papelbon to blank the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Phillies' 1-0 opening-day victory at PNC Park.

Halladay meant that Papelbon was typical because he has proven to be every bit as different as every closer he has met during his well-decorated career.

"They're all a little odd, but in their own way," Halladay said. "I've never seen two of them alike, and he definitely fits the mold. He's going to be a good addition for us. All you want are guys who go out there and compete and want the ball, and he obviously does that."

Competing is not a problem for Papelbon. This is the 31-year-old righthander's seventh season as a closer and Thursday was the first opportunity for Phillies fans to see how Papelbon feeds off the adrenaline that goes with his role.

Papelbon made 12 appearances in Grapefruit League games, and a few baseball scouts wondered if he had lost some life in his arm.

The answer came in the opener.

With the Phillies up by only a run and Halladay's pitch count only at 92, manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee did not have to think long or hard about their ninth-inning chess move.

King (Halladay) would be removed for closer (Papelbon).

It would be a chance to see Cinco Ocho, the pitcher's self-proclaimed alter ego who takes on the Spanish name for his uniform number, 58.

"Yeah, he was out there," Papelbon said. "Did you see him?"

Papelbon said at some point Cinco Ocho will also make a clubhouse appearance with reporters present.

Whoever was on the mound, you could tell right away this wasn't the same guy who had been pitching in meaningless March games in Florida.

"Yeah, spring training is miserable for me," Papelbon said. "But at the same time, you do have to prepare yourself mentally for the season."

Papelbon was prepared to throw fastballs in his first save opportunity with his new team. He threw 10 pitches - nine fastballs and one slider - and his velocity appeared to be just fine. His out-pitch hovered between 93 and 95 and he retired the side in order for the 220th save of his career and his first in a Phillies uniform.

"That's not just Papelbon, that's all closers," Dubee said. "They run off adrenaline. I thought his spring training was fine."

For Papelbon, spring training was a time for him to get to know his teammates and for his teammates to get to know him.

Predictably, they were intrigued.

"He's exactly what I expected him to be," Ty Wigginton said, laughing at the thought.

Wigginton had faced Papelbon from the batter's box many times, but he had never met him.

"He's special," Wigginton said. "He's outstanding. He's great. He's super positive and works hard. He's a character and a lot of fun."

Reliever Mike Stutes has decided that "different" is definitely on the resumé of every closer.

"I think it kind of comes with the closer role because [Ryan] Madson was an interesting guy," Stutes said. "Brad Lidge had his quirks as well. It must take something a little different to be in that role. Maybe it develops over time."

Madson, Lidge, and Papelbon were unique, according to Stutes.

"[Papelbon] is a little more intense, whereas Lidge, nothing ever riled him," Stutes said. "He was very even keel. He was a really good guy to have around, especially for a young pitcher like me. Madson was out there. He wasn't very serious up until the time he stepped on the mound, and then he was locked in.

"Madson and Papelbon were kind of similar because when they're on the mound, they both have tunnel vision. You could see it was just them and the catcher out there. Lidge would be warming up and he'd be turning and carrying on a conversation with you when he was warming up. I wouldn't consider any of those three I've been around boring."

Papelbon was anything but boring in spring training, even if he might have been somewhat bored.

Now, the season has started and Papelbon or Cinco Ocho - whoever that was out on the mound - appears to be locked in and fully loaded.

"If you get the job done, you can be whatever you want," Stutes said.

Contact Bob Brookover

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