No memory pays off for Papelbon at Coors Field
Phillies closer has found success in Colorado after struggling there in 2010
DENVER -- Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon's first regular-season glimpse of Coors Field came in June 2010.
It wasn't pretty.
"To be honest," he said Sunday, "I couldn't tell you one thing about that appearance. And a couple days from now, I won't be able to tell you one thing about [Sunday's] appearance."
It's all about survival as a big league closer.
Memory loss is vital.
Papelbon could enjoy his ninth-inning shutdown of the Rockies on Sunday, earning the save in the Phillies' 10-9 victory against the Rockies. Philadelphia avoided the sweep with the win.
It wasn't necessarily easy, but Papelbon did earn the 291st save of his career, his third at Coors Field.
And he was able to smile when he was reminded of those original nights at Coors Field back in 2010, which he has been able to conveniently block from his memory.
Called on in the ninth inning to protect a 6-5 lead on June 23, 2010, he was greeted by a game-tying home run from Ian Stewart, and a single by Clint Barmes. After Ryan Spilborghs sacrificed Barmes to second, Jason Giambi unloaded a walk-off home run.
Papelbon faced four batters, threw eight pitches, gave up three runs, had a blown save and a loss.
"I can't even tell you who I faced," said Papelbon.
The next day he got the call in the ninth again, this time with an 11-9 lead to protect. Four batters later he had a blown save. After a strikeout of Jonathan Herrera, Todd Helton and Carlos Gonzalez singled, putting runners on first and third. Gonzalez stole second, and Brad Hawpe delivered a game-tying single.
At that point, Papelbon's Coors Field existence considered of eight batters over two games, four singles, two home runs, two blown saves and a loss.
He retired the next two Rockies batters in the ninth. The Red Sox scored in the top of the 10th. Papelbon put the Rockies down in order in the bottom of the 10th.
That was the start of a stretch that has now seen him retire 17 of the last 20 Rockies hitters he has faced at Coors Field, earning saves with the Phillies in 2012, last year and Sunday, in addition to the win with the Red Sox in 2010.
"I did?" said Papelbon.
Yes, he did.
That's the beauty of a guy who makes his life in the ninth inning.
"The biggest thing I ever learned was my first All-Star Game, talking to Mariano Rivera," said Papelbon. "I asked him, `If there's one piece of advice you could give me, what would it be?'
"He said, `Pap, no memory.' I'm thinking, `What does he mean, no memory?' I put two and two together. Good or bad, you have no memory. You have to treat every game as the only game."
So he took the mound on Sunday, oblivious to his Coors Field past. He was greeted by a Nolan Arenado single and sacrifice bunt by Josh Rutledge before hitting Jordan Pacheco with a pitch. That put the tying run on second and the winning run on first with one out.
"The only thing on your mind in that situation is you need to get two outs," he said.
And he did. Pinch-hitter Wilin Rosario popped up and Charlie Blackmon hit a chopper that third baseman Freddy Galvis cut across the infield to glove, then threw to first on the run, and John Mayberry Jr. picked the one-hop throw for the game-ending play.
After the umpires consulted a replay to confirm Mayberry made a clean pick, it was official. Victory Phillies. Save Papelbon.
An exciting moment to reflect upon in light of those early days at Coors Field?
"No memory," Papelbon said with a smile.
Papelbon may be able to block bad times, as well as good, out, but he admits, having spent the first seven years of his big league career pitching for the Boston Red Sox before signing a free-agent contract with Philadelphia Phillies prior to the 2012 season, there are plenty of folks in both cities who haven't forgotten any misstep.
The Phillies opened this season at Texas. In Papelbon's second appearance of the season he blew a save in the series finale. Six days later the Phillies hosted Milwaukee in their home opener.
"I was the only Phillies player who got booed on Opening Day," he said. "To be honest, I enjoy it. I kind of relish it. There is a sick side to me.
"Guess I'm a sicko."
It comes with the territory of making a living pitching the ninth inning in the big leagues.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.