We didn't sign him for this.
Just when most Phillies fans were starting to feel a little bit better about Jonathan Papelbon, the Phils' closer decided to make himself public enemy #1 once again.
For reasons passing understanding, Papelbon, the world's highest-paid relief pitcher, was unavailable to pitch for a third straight day, with an off-day Monday. He claimed general soreness was the culprit, and that he would be ready to go on Tuesday.
Fat lot of good that did them on Sunday.
Because Papelbon, Mike Adams and Jake Diekman were all unavailable, the Phils were forced to turn to Antonio Bastardo to close out a three-run lead in the ninth inning on Sunday. And, with the team up 4-1, that still should have been enough. Instead, Bastardo, Roberto Hernandez and Jeff Manship helped spoil Mother's Day, coughing up three runs in the 9th and eventually losing in the 11th, 5-4.
So, why was Papelbon not available?
"I’m not sure," Sandberg said after the game (quotes per CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury).
That's not what you want to hear. Pap?
"Oh, yeah, sore," he said. "Everything. Back. Legs. You know, the daily grind of the season. It’s a product of the last couple of games, getting up in the bullpen in a tie game a bunch of times the other night. It is what it is."
Because of Papelbon's last-minute unavailability, Sandberg was forced to have Cole Hamels throw 133 pitches in seven innings of work, which he did brilliantly, leaving the Phillies with a 3-1 lead heading into the eighth. It was the most pitches thrown by a starting pitcher in the Majors since Tim Lincecum threw 148 pitches in his no-hitter in July of last year.
So, spare me all the nonsense about Hamels being weak and being a pansy, and maybe direct a little of that vitriol to the team's closer, will ya?
Fan reaction to Papelbon's inability to pitch on Sunday was swift.
Will Papelbon be available on Tuesday or will he have "nervous pee pee pants"? #Phillies— Joe (@corrado_19) May 12, 2014
Guys, take it easy on #Papelbon. He's only making $13 million. You can hardly expect him to work for 5 minutes a day for 3 straight days.— Johnny Goodtimes (@JohnnyGoodtimes) May 12, 2014
It's May 11th and Papelbon is fatigued by the "daily grind" of the baseball season? He's appeared in 16 of 46 Phillies games in 2014.— d a v e (@PhilliesFever) May 12, 2014
If Papelbon told them he wasnt available today after 24 pitches the last 2 nights, Hamels should slug him.— Mike Missanelli (@MikeMiss975) May 11, 2014
My favorite part of yesterday's insanity was Salisbury's description of Papelbon after the game. You can just picture this in your mind.
Most of the Phillies players had already showered and exited the clubhouse by the time Papelbon walked gingerly out of the athletic trainer’s room.
Walked gingerly out of the athletic trainer's room. You gotta love this guy.
No. Wait. You don't.
In case you've forgotten, and I know you haven't, Papelbon is earning $13 million this year as part of a four-year, $50 million contract, the largest deal ever given to a closer. And yet he couldn't overcome some general body soreness and nail down the final game of a three-game series against the Mets, in New York, in which the Phillies had a chance to sweep.
Even worse, he couldn't answer the bell already knowing that two of his colleagues, Adams and Diekman, were both unavailable.
Listen, Bastardo should have nailed down that win. That he could not is perhaps as worrisome as Papelbon's body aches. And let's not come down too hard on Hernandez and Manship. Hernandez is a starter who was pressed into emergency duty as a reliever, and Jeff Manship is Jeff Manship. He's not going to miss any bats, and got bleeded and dunked to death in the decisive 11th inning on Sunday.
And as for Adams and Diekman, it's a bit more understandable why they were unavailable yesterday. Adams, coming off shoulder surgery this off-season, threw 44 pitches on Friday and Saturday, while Dikeman threw 45.
By comparison, Papelbon had thrown 21 in saving the first two games of the series.
There are two scenarios here, both of which are very troubling.
The first is that Papelbon was sore but could have gutted through it and just didn't feel like it. That speaks to his motivation and his lack of desire to do the job he's being paid $13 million a year to do.
The second is that Papelbon really was too sore to pitch, even with two scheduled off-days this week, which puts into question his durability and dependability as the team's closer moving forward. None of us lives inside his body and none of us knows how hurt he really was. But it doesn't seem serious enough to keep him from being ready to go on Tuesday, so, take that for what you will.
Regardless, either scenario should have Sandberg concerned. And it would be understandable if Papelbon's teammates were ticked off after the game, especially Hamels.
"I can only do so much," Hamels said after the game. "I trust my teammates to go out there and do the job. Obviously sometimes it doesn’t happen. We’ll come back (Tuesday) and try to win."
You might remember Hamels' comments in the off-season that painted the clubhouse in a negative light, describing "bitterness and pointing fingers" during last year's lost season. And you might remember Papelbon's fun quote from July of last year in which, during a Phillies losing streak he proclaimed, "I didn't come here for this."
One wonders who Hamels was referring to.
This all really stinks, because Papelbon has been terrific this season, posting a 1.76 ERA with 14 strikeouts and 5 walks in 15 1/3 innings with 11 straight saves. He's been even better if you toss out his blown save in the season's second game against Texas, in which he has not given up an earned run in 14 innings, with 12 strikeouts, three walks and just six hits.
Because of his bounceback start to 2014, Phillies fans had started to forget all that Papelbon nonsense. But Paps can't seem to be able to stand prosperity. He can't seem to stop himself from causing team-wide chaos and infuriating the fan base and his manager.
Whether Papelbon really was too sore to pitch yesterday or he just didn't feel like it and hung his teammates out to dry, it was troubling that he could not answer the bell, especially with an off-day Monday on which he could rest.
Of course, had Bastardo not imploded and blown a very safe three-run lead, this probably wouldn't be a story. But he did, so it is. And now, the Phils have another Papelbon-related clubhouse issue to deal with.
We really didn't sign him for this.