Papelbon shuts down former mates at Fenway Park
Phillies closer notches 10th save while facing friends Pedroia, Ortiz
BOSTON -- David Ortiz did everything he could to avoid looking Jonathan Papelbon in the eye on Tuesday night.
As the Boston slugger stepped to the plate in the ninth inning, his team trailing by two runs, the two players who helped the Red Sox win a World Series in 2007 were pitted against each other for the first time at Fenway Park.
"I was trying not to look at his face, man," Ortiz said. "I tried hard."
But Papelbon, as he often likes to remark, wasn't thinking about much at all.
"I don't think a whole lot," he said. "They don't pay me to think."
What Papelbon is paid to do is close games. And that's exactly what he did Tuesday night, putting the finishing touches on a masterful eight-inning, one-run performance from Cliff Lee en route to a 3-1 Phillies win.
But before Papelbon could shut the door on his former team, he had to retire two of his closest teammates from his days at Boston, Dustin Pedroia and Ortiz. That didn't prove to be a problem as Papelbon retired Boston in order.
"It's like playing against your brother in the backyard," Papelbon said. "For me, those guys are some of my best friends in the world. At the same time, it was fun. They have a really good lineup over there, so I had to stay focused on the task at hand, because I knew at any given moment the game could be tied up."
When Papelbon entered the game, the fans greeted him with a chorus of boos, a far cry from the days when he donned a Red Sox uniform and the Dropkick Murphys' "I'm Shipping up to Boston" blared over the Fenway speakers as he approached the mound.
Just five days earlier, Boston fans exuberantly cheered the return of Indians manager Terry Francona, who led Boston to World Series titles in 2004 and '07. Papelbon did not get the same treatment.
"That's how they love me in that city," said Papelbon. "That's just how it is. I felt like the first time I got booed at Yankee Stadium, I was like, 'Yes, I made it!' It's the atmosphere of the city -- I've always enjoyed playing in this city -- and pitching off that mound. It really felt like old times when I was out there … just in a different uniform."
Ortiz said the boos caught him off guard.
"Most of the guys that do well here and they go somewhere else and they come back, they get that good ovation," Ortiz said.
The return of Papelbon also marked the return of his famous alter ego, Cinco Ocho, which he created in 2007. Facing Ortiz with one out in the ninth, Papelbon said Cinco's bravado almost cost him as he left a fastball over the inside part of the plate. Ortiz turned on the pitch and sent it sailing toward the right-field seats. For a second it looked like Ortiz got the better of the Phillies' closer, but the ball hooked foul.
"He got lucky this time," Ortiz said.
After that, Papelbon reined it in, and a seven-pitch at-bat saw Ortiz ground out to second base, ending the game.
"I loved the fact that I had to self-talk to Cinco in there," Papelbon said. "His ego was getting in the way a little bit there. Probably went inside to Ortiz one too many times maybe. That was his ego getting in the way. That's just what I had to do. That's the way it is."
Papelbon saved 219 games during his seven years with the Red Sox, posting a 2.33 ERA during that span. But the 32-year-old has been just as good if not better in Philadelphia, where he is now in the second year of a four-year, $50 million contract. Papelbon saved 38 games last year and is putting up equally impressive numbers this season. The closer has 10 saves and hasn't given up a run in 18 2/3 innings dating back to April 3.
The success doesn't surprise Pedroia.
"He watches hitters, he watches the game," he said. "I know everyone thinks he's insane, but he's a pretty intelligent pitcher and there's a reason he's been so good."
After splitting a two-game set at Fenway, the Red Sox and Phillies will swap venues and head to Philadelphia, where Papelbon could match up with his old teammates again.
Though Boston fans didn't give him a warm welcome, Papelbon's former teammates wished him nothing but success, so long as it comes after this set.
"I hope he does bad the next couple games," Pedroia said, "but he saves every game the rest of his life."
Michael Periatt is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael Periatt. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.