Papelbon said it was not weird facing the Red Sox, who selected him in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft and saw him record a club-record 219 saves and earn a World Series championship ring in '07. Although the right-hander said earlier in the day he was hoping for bragging rights, no text messages to his former teammates would be sent Friday night.
"We've got to win the series," said Papelbon, now a National League-leading 12-for-12 in save opportunities. "I've got a lot of guys over there I consider brothers. [I] grew up with these guys in the big leagues. Got more respect for a lot of guys over there than many people out there. They're like family to me, some of those guys over there. It's like backyard baseball with your brother."
Since manager Charlie Manuel's closed-door postgame meeting with his club on May 9, the Phillies are 7-1. Their six-game winning streak is the Majors' longest active streak, and they appear headed in the right direction after a slow start.
On Friday, the offense got going early. Carlos Ruiz, who has been making a strong case to be the starting catcher in this summer's All-Star Game, came up with the bases loaded and just one out in the first inning. He took the first pitch he saw from Red Sox starter Daniel Bard, a 79-mph slider, and lined it to center field to bring home two runs.
Ruiz's single sparked a four-run first inning that energized the announced 45,205 crowd, as did solo home runs from Hunter Pence and Freddy Galvis later in the game. Cole Hamels held the Red Sox (18-21) to three runs on six hits in seven innings of work to earn his NL-leading sixth win. The Phillies have now won each of Hamels' last seven starts.
"We made the plays," said bench coach Pete Mackanin, who filled in as manager while Manuel served his one-game suspension. "Nice to win six in a row. We came back. All season long we'd get a few runs and then not add on. Today they came back a little bit and we answered back, which was very important, a good sign."
With his 2-for-3 performance, Ruiz increased his average to .371, which is second in the NL. He entered Friday's games leading all big league catchers in batting average, hits, RBIs and slugging percentage.
Ruiz is hitting .545 with two home runs and eight RBIs since Manuel's team meeting, which seems to have lit a spark under the players.
Papelbon has also been getting more save opportunities lately, which as he noted, means the team is playing better.
"If I'm in the game, we're playing a good game probably, so I think we've been on a good little streak here," said Papelbon. "We've got to keep this train rolling. Can't look forward, can't look back. Like I said earlier in the season when we were struggling, I said we've got the capability to put 10 wins up on the board real quick. So we've got to just keep staying steady at the task at hand."
The Phillies will try to extend their winning streak to seven games on Saturday, when Joe Blanton (4-3, 2.96 ERA) opposes Jon Lester (2-3, 3.71). In his last four starts, Blanton is 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA.
"I think [Manuel] set the standard for what we were looking for, basically not going out there and hoping to win. We're looking for excellence," Mackanin said of the team meeting. "We're looking for winning this thing, and Charlie stands by it. He wants to win the World Series, and that's the only approach to take. Otherwise, what are we doing here?"