If someone would have told you after the 2004 season that once upon a time, elite pitchers would choose to pitch in Citizens Bank Park, you would have laughed it off as a fairy tale.
But it has happened again.
Jonathan Papelbon has followed stud starters Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee to one of baseball’s ultimate hitters parks. The market’s top free-agent closer made it clear when asked about what team was at the top of his offseason wish list.
“I said, ‘Listen, I want to play for the Phillies. Let’s make it happen,’” Papelbon said yesterday at his introductory press conference.
Philadelphia is clearly a destination for top baseball talent. Papelbon signed a four-year deal for $50 million and $58 dollars.
Why the extra $58 for the quirky Papelbon?
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Papelbon said. “You’re going to have to ask Cinco Ocho that question. I can give you his phone number if you need it.”
Cinco Ocho is Papelbon’s alter ego and his number in Spanish. Charlie Manuel laughed when asked about Papelbon’s lively personality.
“It’s fun,” Manuel said. “It’ll be good to have that in the clubhouse.”
The Phillies ultimately hired Papelbon for what he can do on the mound. Papelbon, who holds the Red Sox record with 219 saves, has averaged 37 saves a season with a 2.33 ERA over his seven-year career — with an extraordinary 0.93 WHIP. And Papelbon has been ridiculous during the playoffs, giving up runs in only one inning out of 27.
The latter is a big reason why Phils GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. went to Papelbon as opposed to retaining Ryan Madson.
“Ryan was one of those [closer] candidates, but Jonathan has a little more experience and has done it extraordinarly well for many years. He had success in crunch time and in the playoffs. He was the right fit for us.”
Papelbon, who will turn 31 next week, is three months younger and has less wear and tear on his right arm than Madson. Papelbon has never thrown 70 innings in a season, while Madson has 200 more innings on the odometer.
The four-time All-Star caused the Phillies, who are generally opposed to offering a contract of more than three years to a pitcher, to make an exception.
“Four years is a little uncomfortable,” Amaro said. “But on a player like this and a person who has this type of pedigree, this type of background, sometimes you go the extra mile to do that. With the way he takes care of himself, the way that we understand he works at his craft, we thought it was the right risk.”
What ultimately sold Papelbon on the Phillies was competing against them during interleague play over the last few seasons.
“The biggest thing about me coming here was playing against the Phillies, “ Papelbon said. “I really admire the way they play. I admire the way the grind it out. I feel like the way they play the game of baseball is the way I play the game of baseball. I’m excited to play with them.”