Papelbon uses ALDS loss as motivation
Sox closer wants to learn from mistakes, throw splitter more
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jonathan Papelbon freely admits that he rewatched the horror of it all "100 times", which is probably about 99 times more than most Red Sox fans hit the rewind button on the pain-staking top of the ninth inning from Game 3 of last fall's American League Division Series ouster against the Angels.
Papelbon was hardly being fatalistic when he put that DVD in during the monotony of winter workouts. No, he was pushing himself to remember the pain of how much he hated to see that streak of 17 appearances and 26 scoreless innings in postseason play go up in flames.
"It didn't make my winter tough at all. I'm able to turn the page pretty quick," Papelbon said. "I totally used the way last season ended for motivation. I've got it on tape, and I watched it 100 times in my weight room. I used it as motivation whenever I was feeling tired and weak in the weight room. I'd pop it on and say, 'There's still work to be done.'"
The way Papelbon sees it, the more he remembers the hurt, the better chance he has of going on another sustained run of October dominance.
On Tuesday morning -- two days in advance of the official report date for pitchers and catchers -- Papelbon did something a little more therapeutic, stepping on a mound for the first time since that Sunday afternoon back in October and throwing about 25 pitches.
"Everything was on time and feeling good," Papelbon said. "I can't complain."
He's ready for 2010, his fifth season as the Red Sox's closer.
As for how it all ended last year, when he blew a two-run lead with two outs and two strikes in the ninth?
"It was just something to where, I guess all good things must come to an end," Papelbon said. "I had a great streak in the postseason, and it came to an end. I'm looking forward to starting that streak all over again for another four or five years, hopefully. That's how I set my goals -- to go on streaks. You go on those long streaks, not get in a rut, you come out of them quick, that's what it's all about for me in my role."
In a way, a closer doesn't truly earn his initiation until experiencing and overcoming the first major bout with failure. They've all failed in big spots at one time or another, even Mariano Rivera, the one pitcher in the game Papelbon looks up to the most.
"That's what makes him who he is, and that's what makes an athlete who they are -- how they bounce back," Papelbon said. "In this game, that's what's going to test you to see what you're made of. I take it all full steam ahead. It doesn't affect me. I'm not going to take it into this season. My whole goal this season is to start a streak over again, see what happens from there."
In failure comes learning tools. And one thing that is now blatantly evident to Papelbon is that he became far too reliant on his fastball last year. And with that over-reliance came a bad side effect: the loss of his once-trusted splitter.
The quest for Papelbon this spring will be to get that splitter back. In the lost ninth inning against the Angels, he threw all fastballs.
"I think when you're successful at one certain aspect of your game, and mine was being able to locate my fastball toward the end of the season, you tend to really kind of rely on that a lot," Papelbon said. "Until I got hurt with it, which was a big part of the season, I went with it. Hindsight's 20/20 now, but obviously I'm going to take that into consideration, try to be a little more selective with my pitches."
Where did the splitter go?
"That's such a feel pitch," Papelbon said. "It's a pitch that you have to throw a lot, just like a curveball. Any kind of offspeed pitch, it's a feel pitch. There were times when I was choking it down a little too much and overthrowing it, and there were times when I was throwing it perfect. But like I said, that comes with experience, and this year I'll be able to take that into the season right from the get-go."
At 29, Papelbon is squarely in his prime. He continues to go year-to-year with the Red Sox and will make $9.35 million this season. Papelbon is eligible for free agency following the 2011 season.
Papelbon scoffs at the notion that it's some type of foregone conclusion that he will cash in somewhere else once he has the freedom to do so.
"I think that's the perception, that I'm going to go somewhere else, but it's all a perception," Papelbon said. "Right now, this is the way it's working out. It's that simple. It's one year at a time. It's working out, and both sides are happy. Of course I'd love to be with Boston for a long time. But this is the way it is right now, and I'm happy going one year at a time. This is the organization I started in. This is the organization that gave me the opportunity to play Major League Baseball. Of course I'd love to stay here for 15 years. Right now one year at a time is the way it's working, and I'm happy and everyone else is happy, so why not?"
And now that a new season is upon him, Papelbon can finally put the Game 3 Angels' DVD in the trash bin.
"[I'm] done with it and moving on," Papelbon said. "I've got new short-term and long-term goals for this season, and it's time to rock and roll."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.