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Papelbon adding to Nationals’ woes

Jonathan PapelbonRemember this guy? Of course, how could Phillie fans forget.

Jonathan Papelbon accomplished a lot during his time in Philadelphia. He earned two All-Star selections, compiled an excellent 2.31 ERA over 237.2 innings-pitched, and passed Jose Mesa as the Phillies’ all-time leader in saves with 123. But his abrasive and personality and his willingness to speak the truth without a hint of a filter transformed him into public enemy number one until he was traded to Washington before July’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Since the trade, the Nationals have completely derailed. They have coughed up the NL East to the New York Mets; so much so that they find themselves 6.5 games back with just 11 games left in the regular season. And as Peter Gammons pointed out early Thursday morning, they sport a losing record since acquiring Papelbon.

The Nationals still have a steep hill to climb despite the Mets’ recent struggles. Over their last eight games, the Mets have stumbled to a 2-6 record. The Nationals were able to cut the deficit a tad, but back-to-back losses to the Orioles while the Mets have lost two straight to the Braves have killed the Nationals’ momentum.

Wednesday night’s contest against the Orioles was the latest chance for the Nationals to gain ground on the struggling Mets, but the club failed to win despite entering the seventh inning with a one-run lead with ace Max Scherzer on the mound. The thorn in the Nats’ side was Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, who hit a two-run home run off Scherzer with two outs in the seventh inning to give the Orioles a 4-3 lead.

Then enters Papelbon, who with two outs in the ninth appeared to purposefully plunk Machado near the head with a fastball.

Clearly, Machado was displeased with what appeared to be a deliberate attempt by Papelbon to hit him two innings removed from his key home run. In a post game interview with CSNmidatlantic.com’s Rich Dubroff, Machado took a shot at Papelbon by calling the move “cowardly.”

Home plate umpire Mark Ripperger ejected Papelbon following the pitch, and rightfully so. A pitch earlier in the at-bat was dangerously close to Machado’s head, and while Machado crushed a home run to give the Orioles the lead two innings prior, he didn’t showboat or emphatically flip his bat in triumph.

Papelbon didn’t agree with the umpire’s decision to eject him from the game.

“I was pretty surprised,” Papelbon said, via The Washington Post. “I thought Mark let the crowd get into it a little bit there. I think he allowed that to dictate his decision to toss me there. As players, as umpires, man, we gotta keep our cool out there and let the game play out for itself.”

After the game, Papelbon, predictably, wouldn’t admit whether or not the pitch was intentional. Instead, he gave a painfully ambiguous response to a Washington Post reporter.

Another player who wasn’t too pleased with the situation was star outfielder Bryce Harper, who despite his team’s struggles has maintained his MVP-caliber pace at the plate.

“I mean, Manny freaking hit a homer and walked it off and somebody drilled him,” Harper said, via The Washington Post. “It’s pretty tired. It’s one of those situations where it happens. I don’t know. I’ll probably get drilled tomorrow. We’ll see what happens.”

Way to go, Pap.

Regardless, Papelbon hasn’t been the reason for the Nationals’ collapse, although he hasn’t been as sharp since moving to Washington. In 21.2 innings-pitched, he has given up six earned runs after giving up just seven in almost 16 innings more with the Phillies, and has blown two saves after blowing none with the Phillies.

While the closer has been the least of the Nationals’ problems, instances like last night could stricken fans and the organization with a case of buyer’s remorse, especially if they fail to make the postseason.

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