Tuesday, June 06, 2006

From The Cleveland Ledger....And Well Written. To Forget, If But For A Moment

"When I caught up with Jonathan Papelbon by cell phone Monday afternoon, he was on his way to work. At Yankee Stadium.
Talk about job stress. If all went well, the end of Papelbon's work day would have him as the center of attention, with about 55,000 New York Yankees fans screaming against him, a national TV audience watching, and the Red Sox leading the Yankees by a half game in the American League East.
"It'll be a hostile environment for sure," Papelbon said. "You just have to feed off it. I want to be the best. That's my goal: To be the best. To be the best, you've got to beat the best."
Amazing, isn't it? Established, experienced closers such as Mariana Rivera, Jason Isringhausen, Billy Wagner and Brad Lidge all trail the 25-year-old Papelbon, who didn't even begin the season as the Red Sox closer. But when veteran Keith Foulke, the projected closer, struggled early, Francona auditioned Papelbon, who won the role and quickly became a star.
"I just told myself that I've got this chance to do something, so I might as well take advantage of it," said Papelbon, who has used a 95-97 mph fastball, a sharp-breaking slider and a newly developed split-finger fastball to dominate opposing hitters.
Going into Monday, Papelbon had struck out 26 and walked only three in 28 innings. His earned run average: a minuscule 0.33.
I knew he had a strong arm, good stuff. But if you had told me three years ago, he would be doing this well, this soon, in the major leagues, I would not have believed it.
Papelbon laughed when I told him just that and asked him how he had gotten so far, so fast.
"Hard work," he answered. "My work ethic has gone through the roof."
That split-finger fastball, developed during the 2005 season and perfected in the off-season, has been huge.
"Schill (Curt Schilling) showed me the grip in spring training last year, and I
Papelbon, a Baton Rouge native who went to high school in Florida and is building a home in Brandon, has as much confidence as he has stuff.

"Yes," he answers when asked if he thinks Bobby Thigpen's single-season saves record of 57 is attainable.
"Hey, Thigpen's a Mississippi State guy so you know I gotta go after it and try to keep it in the family," Papelbon said. "Anything's possible, but to get that many you've got to be perfect or almost perfect. You can't miss many."
Papelbon, again: "Why not set your goals high? I want to be the best. That's all. I want to be the best."
So far, he has been."

****Peter here. I thought those few words would help bring a smile to those still mourning last night's game, the first of four. Good stuff, huh?

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