All we have to go off is photo and video evidence and the claims of those involved, but Jonathan Papelbon staunchly maintained that what second-base umpire Joe West professed he saw – and what many others felt they saw – during yesterday's ninth inning was not the case.
After blowing a three-run lead against the Marlins, Papelbon walked toward the dugout as boos reigned down from the Citizens Bank Park crowd. As he neared the steps to the dugout, the Phillies' closer slowed his stride and reached for his crotch while looking straight ahead in the direction of fans along the first-base line.
Moments later, West approached the dugout and ejected Papelbon, who charged back onto the field and got into a screaming match with the umpire. The two face to face, West grabbed Papelbon and pushed him to the side so that he could head back onto the field to re-take his position behind second base.
So, Pap, what happened?
"[West] basically came over and said that I did an inappropriate gesture and I had no clue what he was talking about," the closer insisted after the Phillies' 5-4 loss. "That's when I got upset because I had no idea what he was talking about. I had no explanation. I was still obviously pretty heated from what had just transpired. You know, me and Joe, we go way back and we don't see eye to eye a lot of times."
Despite photos and videos suggesting otherwise, Papelbon unwaveringly claimed after the game that "by no means" did he intentionally direct a lewd gesture toward the fans.
"I mean this is baseball. 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.
West, on the other hand, said to a pool reporter that he and the home-plate umpire each witnessed the pitcher make a gesture "and that's not good." West also said he grabbed Papelbon during their confrontation only after the pitcher's head made contact with the umpire's cap.
"The whole thing started because the fans booed him and he made an obscene gesture," West said. "He had no business doing that. He's got to be more professional than that. And that's why he was ejected."
Manager Ryne Sandberg said he didn't see the gesture West alleged to have seen but that he would speak with Papelbon on last night's flight to San Diego for the start of their 10-game road trip.
"I'll talk to Pap first hand and see exactly what happened and go from there," Sandberg said.
Before the afternoon changed dramatically, it appeared the Phillies (69-80) would board the aforementioned flight on the heels of a three-game sweep.
Rookie right-hander David Buchanan continued to make his case for a spot in next season's starting rotation, pitching an efficient 6 1/3 innings. Antonio Bastardo and Justin De Fratus combined for a clean 1 2/3 frames. The bats, led by two hits apiece from Ben Revere and Ryan Howard, mustered enough to give their closer a three-run cushion.
When it was all said and done, Papelbon had surrendered four runs on four hits. His 38 pitches were the most he's thrown in an outing since Sept. 5, 2010, pitching against the White Sox while still with Boston. His wild pitch to Marcel Ozuna permitted Christian Yelich to score the go-ahead run.
The outing was just Papelbon's fourth blown save in 41 opportunities this season. The four earned runs allowed tied a career high. The veteran right-hander had trouble commanding his pitches and fell behind in counts. He was pitching for a third consecutive day, though he said afterward that was not a factor in his struggles.
For all the Phillies' woes this season, late-inning pitching has not been one of them. Though they've lost 80 games for the third consecutive season, this was only the fifth that came when they led after eight innings.
"I just was catching too much of the plate today," Papelbon said. "I wasn't as sharp as I've been here for most of the year. Just one of those days."
It certainly didn't have the feel of a run-of-the-mill Sunday at the ballyard.
"The fans come, they pay their money and they want to see a good game and they have the right to boo and do whatever they want to do," Papelbon said. "But when an umpire gets caught up in that and starts trying to look for extra things that he may think are going on. Just umpire the game and I don't think we would have been in this situation, because by no means was I directing anything at any fans.