|Why Jonathan Papelbon will be forever grateful to Mariano Rivera and Gary Tuck||02.18.12 at 9:08 pm ET|
CLEARWATER, Fla. — Thanks to a lesson learned from Mariano Rivera the first time Jonathan Papelbon met him at the 2006 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, Papelbon won’t be obsessing about that fateful ninth inning from last September that ended his career in a Red Sox uniform.
“I don’t think about it at all,” Papelbon said Saturday while wearing his new Phillies uniform. “When I was a rookie and I made my first All-Star Game, I had a chance to talk to Mo about what was the biggest thing that was going to make me successful in this game. His first answer was, ‘short-term memory.’ So, you have to be able to learn from them still, learn from those situations but man, I don’t sit there and think about it all spring. You go over things and you try to learn from them but you have to be able to turn the page.”
Papelbon still has in his mind the goal of someday passing Rivera for the all-time saves lead. But that might be next-to impossible as Papelbon has 217 coming into this season, the first of a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies. Rivera currently sits at 603. If Rivera doesn’t throw another pitch, Papelbon, now 31 years of age, would have to average 39 saves over the next 10 seasons to pass him.
“I think what Mariano has meant to the game pretty much speaks for itself,” Papelbon said. “But for me, I call him ‘The Godfather’ jokingly because he’s the Godfather of closers but at the same time, I think that he’s the guy you have to go after. Every time I saw him last year, I told him, ‘Man, you’re making my job harder to catch you every year. He’s found some kind of Fountain of Youth somewhere. To me, he’s always been special because I may not be sitting here today if it wasn’t for him.”
But there’s someone else Papelbon is grateful to, someone with a bridge from Rivera in New York to Papelbon in Boston and now Philadelphia – bullpen coach Gary Tuck, who stayed behind with the Red Sox and manager Bobby Valentine.
“For so many years there in Boston, I was able to be under Gary Tuck, who was also with Mo for all those championship runs in New York,” Papelbon said. “How many times I heard ‘Repeat [your] delivery,’ I don’t know, but repeating your delivery and conditioning your body to do one thing, repeat your delivery. Mariano was religious about it and Gary kind of took of that into his role with me and making me realize how important that aspect is.
“Pitching later on in my career was a blessing because I was able to let my body develop and learn how to pitch with good mechanics. I truly believe that’s a reason why I am able to stay so healthy.”
Since his right shoulder subluxation in Sept. 2006, Papelbon has taken extraordinary care of his shoulder, resulting in an average of nearly 37 saves over the last five seasons.
There’s one other thing Papelbon made perfectly clear Saturday – he won’t miss the 18 grueling games against the Yankees lineup.
“No question, no question,” he said. “To be honest, there were some days where it got kind of old sitting there saying, ‘I’ve got to face [Derek Jeter] again. He’s seen everything I’ve got and I’ve seen everything he’s got.’ That’s why I say it brings a little bit of life to me this year, being in a new clubhouse and being able to face new guys and play the game of baseball in the National League. When you come over here, you’re playing baseball and it’s a little bit more strategy and a little bit more of a game than it was in the American League. I don’t know yet but I’m assuming it will be and I’m excited to do that.”
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