It had been two years since Jonathan Papelbon last pitched at Fenway Park, and his most immediate concern upon stepping into the visitors dugout Monday night was a simple one.
“I wonder if [visiting clubhouse manager] Joe Cochran has the Dubble Bubble that I like,” he said.
Beyond that, Papelbon was excited to return to Boston after leaving in 2011 as a free agent for Philadelphia and anxious about how a fan base that fell in love with him as the face of the 2007 World Series team would welcome him back
“It’s an absolute thrill to be here, to play in this park again, and to hopefully get on the mound here and pitch,” Papelbon said before the game. “I think this is one of my all-time favorite mounds to pitch off of and, obviously, you know the crowd will be intense tonight. It’s fun to play here.
“Obviously our championships we won here, the memories of pitching in so many situations where the game was on the line and having fun with it. I think every time I took the mound here it was fun.”
In seven seasons with the Red Sox, Papelbon amassed 219 saves, the most in team history. His wildflower personality was front and center in the run to the world championship in 2007, when his champagne-soaked Riverdance became the signature image of the season.
But after a tumultuous 2011 season, Papelbon signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Phillies.
“Hopefully, I’ll be received well,” he said. “But I will also accept the fact that I might not.
“Hopefully, the fans understand that what I did here was come here and help win. That’s the only thing I really wanted to do here. Hopefully they’ll understand that while I was here, that’s all I wanted to do was help the ball club win, and we won.
“So, hopefully, they’ll recognize that. But if they don’t, I understand it and I get it and I’ll welcome it with open arms.”
Papelbon has sustained his success in Philadelphia, recording 30-plus saves for the seventh straight season a year ago. Currently, he’s on a streak of 17.2 scoreless innings, the second-longest active streak among National League relievers. He says he feels more evolved as a pitcher.
“I think a lot has changed in the last couple years for me,” said Papelbon. “I think for me, I’ve become more of a complete pitcher and not just a thrower. Last year and a half in Philly, I’m really starting to become more of a complete pitcher in my mind and not just a thrower that goes out there and tries to go out there and blow it by everybody.”
What’s also changed is his theme music — from the Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” to Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” The Dropkicks’ power chords still pulse through Fenway whenever there’s a save opportunity, only now it’s Andrew Bailey coming out of the bullpen.
The playlist is Papelbon-approved.
“I like it, I really do,” he said. “I think it’s for a good cause and it has become a song that’s been notorious for this city when we won in ’07 and the Dropkicks are a huge thing here in Boston. I think it’s cool, man.”