Jonathan Papelbon has a colorful personality. He was born in Louisiana, went to high school in Jacksonville, Fla. and played college baseball at Mississippi State. He is known for speaking his mind, a long career as a closer, his Southern drawl, an alter-ego named Cinco Ocho, and his wild intensity on the field.
When he speaks, there is a mix of laughs and seriousness. But he has seen a lot in his 11 years in the majors, from pennant races to multiple playoff appearances to earning a World Series ring. So when Papelbon said something about fans after Friday night’s 5-2 walk-off win, ears perked up.
Asked where the dramatic game ranked among wins, Papelbon said this: “It’s up there. These games from here on out are going to be playoff-type games and playoff-type atmospheres.”
Then he transitioned into something related, which caused him to smile and some reporters to laugh.
“I got a little bone to pick with some of the fans here tonight,” he said. “I saw a few of them sitting down. I’m not gonna lie. We need to stand on up in those situations. Let’s get that going. Ya know what I mean. Because this is playoff baseball.”
Nationals Park had an announced crowd of 23,536 although it felt a bit lighter than that. Perhaps it was because of the Braves, who are in the midst of an awful run and have one of the worst records in the league, or the Nationals’ up-and-down season.
When the Nationals tied the game with two outs in the ninth, the crowd at Nationals Park cheered. The same in the 10th when Michael A. Taylor won the game with a pinch-hit three-run home run. But Papelbon wanted more fans on their feet and, presumably, cheering loudly. Players have noted on many occasions in the past how an energetic atmosphere at Nationals Park gives them an extra boost.
Speaking of Papelbon, he offered some other funny comments after the game. Asked about Manager Matt Williams’s maneuvering during the game — from bullpen choices to double-switches to defensive substitutions — Papelbon said the following:
“A lot of decisions had to be made tonight. Most of the decisions that he made, they pulled through. I was yelling at him to get me up there and let me hit.” He laughed and then the Nationals clubhouse erupted. The Marlins had just defeated the Mets in a walk-off win that trimmed the Nationals’ division deficit to five games.
“Go baby!” someone yelled as the Marlins’ Christian Yelich rounded the bases to score on Martin Prado’s double. “That’s a game-winner,” another player said.
“Yeah, that’s the ballgame,” Papelbon continued with reporters. “All right. So, anyway, what I talking about? Yeah, yeah, I was talking about me raking.”
Later asked about Taylor’s home run and his power, Papelbon again drew laughs.
“He’s got a lightning quick bat. That was like a 30-aught-6 coming off a bat right there,” said Papelbon, referring to a .30-06 Springfield rifle cartridge. “I haven’t seen a ball hit like that in a long time.”
Aside from the laughs, Papelbon provided two critical innings for the Nationals on 27 pitches. It was the fifth time this season he has pitched more than one inning. He was double switched into the game with the Nationals trailing 2-1 so that he could do that. He pitched out of a two-on jam in the ninth inning and, with the score tied, fired a clean 10th before the walk-off home run.
“Matt just makes the decision,” Papelbon said about pitching two innings. “I follow him. He’s skip. I’ve always told him I’m good to go. You throw me when you need me. No need to ask me any day. I’m gonna do everything I need to prepare every day and if something happens where I simply can’t, I’ll know. Other than that, ready to pitch.”