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Phillies' Papelbon suspended seven games for crotch grab

Phillies decline to act on closer after lewd incident, but MLB punishes him after gesture while walking off the field.

SAN DIEGO - Strange. That's probably the best word to describe the latest chapter in the Phillies' tumultuous 2014 season. Three hours before game time yesterday, Jonathan Papelbon ducked into the visiting manager's office at Petco Park for a chat with manager Ryne Sandberg. Two hours later, Major League Baseball suspended him for seven games.

In between, there wasn't a whole lot of clarity on what, exactly, was going through Papelbon's head when he appeared to direct an exaggerated crotch-grab at a section of jeering fans behind the Phillies' dugout as he left the field after blowing his fourth save of the season Sunday afternoon. He bumped umpire Joe West in the ensuing argument, which also was a factor in the suspension.

Sandberg said that his cocksure closer stuck to the story he relayed to the media in the wake of the incident: that he was simply making a necessary adjustment in his nether regions as he walked off the field.

"The biggest thing that he indicated to me was that from what happened yesterday, whether it was poor timing on the field, or whatever, he had no intention of giving any type of a signal or gesture to the fans when he left the game," Sandberg said.

Did Sandberg believe him?

"That's not my job or position to believe him," he said.

The tiptoeing continued later in the evening, after MLB announced its suspension, with the Phillies releasing a statement that twice emphasized that disciplining the on-field behavior of players fell to the the commissioner's office. The statement concurred with the judgment rendered.

In its entirety: "The Phillies fully support the decision of the Commissioner's Office, which has exclusive jurisdiction for on-field player behavior. By Major League Baseball rules, the Phillies have no authority to make official judgments about activity which occurs on the field or to determine the appropriate penalty for misconduct. We apologize to our fans for the actions of our player yesterday."

The deliberate word choices on display throughout the evening could have something to do with Papelbon's contract, which includes a $13 million vesting option for 2016 based in part on games finished over the next couple of seasons. The option vests with 55 games finished in 2015 or 100 games finished in 2014-15. Papelbon has 50 games finished on the season, so there is a realistic chance that two or three lost opportunities because of this suspension could end up being the difference between the option vesting and not. Such an outcome would very clearly benefit the Phillies, and you can bet they were determined to avoid providing the players association with any hint of opportunism to seize upon.

Papelbon essentially declined to comment after a lengthy phone call with his agent.

"I would love to say something, but I can't," he said.

The previous day, he steadfastly denied he intended to express any ill will toward the fans. Some would label it playing dumb, although, with Papelbon, there often does not seem to be much playing required.

"I mean, this is baseball," Papelbon said after he was ejected by umpire Joe West, sparking a confrontation that ended with West grabbing him by the jersey and moving him out of his path.

"I had to make an adjustment and I did it," he said. "I don't even hear the fans out there. When I'm out there and I'm in the moment, the fans are irrelevant to me. I don't even see them. I don't even hear them. To me it's . . . it's pretty stupid, to be totally honest with you."

Papelbon's outspoken manner has not curried him any favor with the fan base since he signed with the team before the 2012 season. Last year, he told he "didn't come here for this," a reference to the Phillies' struggles. This year, he has made no secret of his desire to be traded to a winner, going so far as to question why anybody would desire otherwise.

But Sandberg insists that Papelbon has not been the handful in the clubhouse that the headlines might portray.

"He's been great this year," Sandberg said. "He's been a leader with the young pitchers. He's been on a tremendous roll all year for us. He's been a big part of the team, which he still is. He's been outstanding. He's been one of the leaders. The last 3 or 4 weeks with the team playing well, he's been a part of that, doing his part."

Sandberg said the team had not decided who would close, in Papelbon's absence, although rookie righthander Ken Giles is a strong candidate.

Rollins update

Jimmy Rollins continues to work his way back toward a return. The shortstop has been sidelined since Sept. 8 with a hamstring strain, but did some light infield work yesterday and has hit in the cage throughout his layoff.

Rollins, who is hitting .243/.323/.394 with 17 home runs, has been one of the few Phillies to perform at league average or better at his position. His .717 OPS ranked seventh out of 22 qualified major league shortstops heading into yesterday's action, trailing Hanley Ramirez (.803), Jhonny Peralta (.796), Starlin Castro (.777), Ian Desmond (.727), Jose Reyes (.724) and Alexei Ramirez (.721).