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Papelbon has no regrets

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 10, 2012
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jonathan Papelbon was never one of the beer-drinking, chicken-eating Red Sox. In fact, as goofy and loose as he may be off the field, he took his profession very seriously, which is why he was one of the best closers in baseball.

Which is also why that even on a last-place Phillies team that’s even worse than the .500 Red Sox team he left, he’s a National League All-Star.

“It’s a lot different,” Papelbon said about his new team and new league, “but we’re having a tough year too. We have to deal with a lot of injuries too. I miss some things [about the Red Sox] and I don’t miss some things. I miss the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. I miss Fenway, but I also enjoy Citizens Bank Park. I enjoy the city of Philadelphia. I enjoy a lot of things.”

Despite the losing and wondering whether the Phillies (37-50) will be buyers or sellers before the trading deadline, Papelbon still has fun. When a fan recently ran across the field and headed toward the bullpen, Papelbon intercepted him.

“He made a huge mistake of trying to jump into the bullpen,” a kidding Papelbon said. “He met Cinco-Ocho head on. I was gonna give him a forearm shiver but then I figured if I gave him a foream shiver I might get sued from hell and back. I put him in a sleeper hold and tossed him back over.”

It blows him away that the Red Sox and Phillies have been underperforming. The Phillies are 14 games back in the NL East, so their situation is far more dire than 43-43 Boston’s.

“I think I’m surprised that the Phillies are struggling more than Red Sox and we’re dealing with more injuries than the Red Sox are,” he said. “You know they’re dealing Kevin Youkilis and dealing players. When you’re dealing players like Youkilis I don’t think you expect to get any better, do you?”

But he thinks both teams have a good run left in them. The Phillies have Ryan Howard and Chase Utley back from first-half injuries, and will get ace Roy Halladay back soon. The Red Sox should have Jacoby Ellsbury returning when the team opens up in Tampa Bay Friday.

Papelbon said that if the Phillies brass decides to give up on the season it would surprise him.

“A lot of players in the clubhouse would be disappointed,” he said. “That new wild card deal changes a lot of things for general managers. We’ve got a tough road ahead. We got Doc and Ryan Howard and Utley back now. You take [away] the third- and fourth-hole hitter in anybody’s lineup you can’t expect to have it easy. I think we’ve weathered the storm halfway decent. It’s too early to say, ‘Hey, let’s start dealing players.’ If we come back and lose 10 in a row, that’s a different story.”

He was asked whether his presence in Boston would have changed anything.

“I don’t know, that’s hard to say,” he said. “I don’t think one person makes a difference. I truly don’t. When you get a group of guys together that all have common goals and work well together, then you have to mix it with veteran guys and younger players like we did in ’07. That’s the perfect situation. That’s what Theo [Epstein] did well after ’04, he was able to keep veterans and bring up young guys in the system. We meshed well together and that goes a lot further. There’s talent everywhere in our clubhouse. There’s Cy Youngs, All-Stars everywhere, and we’re struggling.”

And so we went back to the September collapse. Did the players really walk all over Terry Francona?

“I don’t think so at all,” Papelbon said. “I think that players, when they get to the big leagues, they’re responsible for themselves even more than a manager is responsible for them. A manager’s job is to make sure the right calls are made and that it’s managed properly. A manager’s job shouldn’t be babysitting. We’re grown men. I think every player was prepared and ready to go. It reminds me of an NFL kicker — somebody had to be the scapegoat. I don’t personally think it was fair.”

Papelbon said the Francona “was like a father figure to me. That SOB kicked me in the ass when I needed it. He picked me up when I was falling down. He taught me the ins and outs of being a player and how to succeed. He told me something one day when I was a rookie that you have to learn how to fail before you can succeed. And that’s something that clicked in my head. Things like that. From the first spring training, sitting down with me to show me how it works and how to be successful and everything.

“To go from having him for a manager from 2005-2011, to someone else, that wouldn’t have been easy. I don’t think it’s easy for Dustin [Pedroia] or anyone else in that clubhouse who spent time with Tito.”

After Francona was let go right after the season, Papelbon said that sealed the deal for his departure, though the Red Sox never made an offer.

“I’d say it closed the door — not 100 percent — but I wasn’t gonna go there and not know what manager I’d be playing for,” he said. “Even when Philadelphia showed interest, I asked around about Charlie [Manuel]. A manager has a lot to do with how a player ticks and how he performs.

“They wanted to see me go out and test the market then come back. I was looking forward. I went full steam ahead. I have a car that doesn’t have rear view mirrors in it.”

Papelbon was thrilled for David Ortiz’s success.

“He looks good,” Papelbon said. “I’m happy for him. I’m excited for him. I think sometimes he lets his feelings get in the way. He gets emotionally fired-up sometimes. In my opinion, the Red Sox are not the Red Sox without him. Period. I don’t care what he asks for [contract-wise]. I try and make that big man happy.”

Papelbon also weighed in on his former setup man, Daniel Bard. Papelbon has been following the control issues Bard has gone through.

“He’s a mature athlete and he knows what it’s about,” Papelbon said. “He’s gonna be fine. I really do think so. He’s taking some bumps and bruises but who doesn’t? You’re not in the big leagues unless you’re taking bumps and bruises. I had mine in 2010. I think it’ll make him better.’’

Papelbon was already a rich man before he signed the four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies. But now, is he different?

“It hasn’t changed my life at all,” he said. “I bought four four-wheelers. That’s about it. I went from a Back Bay penthouse to a Rittenhouse Square penthouse. When all is said and done I’m easy-easy. It was never about money for me. If it was about money I’d have been a starting pitcher. The contract going year-to-year was more of a competitive thing for me. I was trying to be the best on the field. Why not be the best off the field? It’s the way I tick.

“If that’s [big contract] what motivates you, and if your work ethic changes and you get lazy, you have to start asking yourself should I even be playing this game?”

Boston fans should have no problem with Papelbon. He played hard for them. He played well for them. The Red Sox had a chance to sign him long-term, made no offer to him, and let him sign somewhere else. And both the Red Sox and Papelbon aren’t looking back.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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