PHILADELPHIA -- Jonathan Papelbon hopes to put his perfect save percentage (12 saves in 12 chances) to the test all three times the Philadelphia Phillies face his former team, the Boston Red Sox, this weekend.
He's off to a good start -- he helped the Phillies take the first game from the Red Sox with a 6-4 win to notch his 12th save of the season.
"I've been looking forward to this series since the day I signed here," said Papelbon, who gave the Red Sox six consecutive seasons of 30 or more saves as their closer before signing a four-year, $50 million contract as a free agent, as the Red Sox passed on making him an offer.
"Facing old teammates, bragging rights," he said before the Phillies' win. "It's like you play with your brother in the backyard for so many years, you want those bragging rights. I don't want to have to hear it from [Dustin] Pedroia, somebody like that, text messages. I want to be giving it to him. It'll be fun."
The Red Sox had planned to replace Papelbon with All-Star closer Andrew Bailey, acquired in a trade from Oakland. But Bailey tore thumb ligaments in a freak accident in spring training, and has just begun to resume throwing; in the interim, the Red Sox settled on Alfredo Aceves, who got off to a rocky start but has run off eight saves, including six in his past 11 appearances, in which he has held opponents to a 1.29 ERA and an OPS of .501.
Papelbon, just as he had in spring training, said he assumed Daniel Bard would succeed him as Boston closer. Instead, Bard was converted to a starter and took the loss against the Phillies on Friday night.
"That guy (Bard) can do pretty much whatever he wants and has proven that," Papelbon said. "He's taken off, and has a good future in a starting role."
Papelbon, who dropped in frequent allusions to his alter ego, Cinco Ocho, said he hadn't paid much attention to the National League when he was with the Red Sox and has relied on the Phillies' bullpen coach, Mick Billmeyer, to fill him in.
"I ask him a bunch of dumb questions. ... I've got a state education, so I'm not that bright," said Papelbon, who hasn't lost the capacity to be self-effacing.
The biggest difference in the leagues?
"I'm home in 2½ hours," he said. "In Boston, I'm pitching at midnight. I can't tell you how many times I turned around in Fenway Park and saw 12:02 and 12:03."
Asked if there was a former teammate he was particularly eager to face, Papelbon wasted no time responding.
"Big Sloppy," he said, employing his nickname for David Ortiz. "That's my man. Is he playing tonight? I knew he wouldn't."
With no designated hitter in effect in a National League park, Ortiz did not start. He grounded out in the top of the eighth inning as a pinch hitter, and was replaced by reliever Franklin Morales in the bottom of the eighth.
Of course, Ortiz could face Papelbon on Saturday and/or Sunday.
"Just the fact if he gets me I won't ever be able to say nothing to him," Papelbon said, "but if I get him, I'll always be able to say something to him. That's how it is; it's bragging rights."
Papelbon was gracious in reflecting on his Red Sox experience, singling out former manager Terry Francona.
"I'm proud of the championships ... we won there, proud of being part of an organization I felt it taught me how to play in the big leagues," he said. "I'm proud of playing for a manager, Tito, who taught me how to be a man, taught me how to accept failure, taught me how to accept winning, basically A to Z.
"A lot of good memories. A lot of good people surrounding them."