Jonathan Papelbon found himself inside the home clubhouse at Nationals Park for the first time Monday afternoon, a full six days removed from his surprise trade from the Phillies, feeling comfortable with his new teammates but only now finally feeling comfortable with his surroundings.
“I got my own football today,” the veteran closer said, holding up the same type of foam football rocket many Nationals relievers like to throw around the outfield prior to batting practice. “So, yeah, I’m feeling like home.”
Papelbon has been mostly a spectator since the trade went down last Tuesday. He joined the Nationals on Wednesday in Miami, closed out Thursday afternoon’s 1-0 victory over the Marlins, then never found himself on the mound during a weekend sweep in New York.
The former Red Sox and Phillies closer, owner of a World Series ring and 18 career postseason appearances, has had ample time to take the pulse of this clubhouse. And he sees qualities that leave him encouraged by the team’s prospects over the season’s final two months (and possibly beyond).
“I think my personal stance on that is: A team that stays together and has fun together and works hard together and plays together will win together,” he said. “You don’t always have to necessarily have the most talent. You don’t have to have the best lineup. You don’t have to have the best bullpen or the best starting staff. You have to have a team that knows how to play well together. And so far, so good. I like what I see. And I think as the season goes on and we get into this playoff race, I think this team will become closer and closer together.”
Having been through the meat grinder in Boston and later in Philadelphia, Papelbon understands the ups and downs of a long season. And he understands the fine balance between maintaining an even keel on a daily basis while also recognizing when it’s time to ratchet up the intensity level.
Again, he sees a Nationals club well-equipped to deal with all that.
“I think the thing here is, each guy stays focused on what we’re good at and what we do well,” he said. “You take that into the playoffs. You don’t change anything in the playoffs. They’re bigger games, but in the playoffs, cool as a cucumber always wins. And I think that we’ve got a lot of cool guys on this team.”