Yankees closer Mariano Rivera had suffered a major knee injury.
"It's kind of hard to put it into words," Papelbon said before Friday's series opener against the Nationals at Nationals Park. "I've always said that he's the godfather of this role. It's just tough to see your leader, your ... your ..."
"Your idol," he said. "It's really hard to even comprehend it. Or talk about it. He's someone you obviously respect and have competed against for so many years. You just don't want to see it happen that way."
Rivera told reporters Friday he planned to rehab from knee surgery to try to finish his career on the mound, not on the warning track in Kansas City. That will be good news for Papelbon, who considers Rivera a mentor, despite the fact they competed for years when Papelbon pitched for the Boston Red Sox.
Papelbon watched video of Rivera's knee buckling on the warning track, and the disturbed reaction from Alex Rodriguez, who watched it happen behind the batting cage. But that wasn't the worst part for Papelbon.
"To me, the most disturbing thing was to see him try to answer questions about what was happening, you could just see the wheels turning in his mind, you could see the fear, the unknown, all of those things," he said. "Any human being who has any kind of heart, or has been in this game for any period of time, whether it's one day or 20 years, understands where he's coming from, and can feel his heart in the interview, man. It's hard not to."
Papelbon has told the story before about how Rivera influenced his career when they first spoke at the 2006 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, but it is worth repeating one more time, considering the severity of Rivera's injury.
"I said, 'Hey, I'm not going to try to pick your brain, but if you can give me one thing, one thing I can take with me,'" Papelbon said. "He told me, 'Pap, no memory. Short memory.' At first I was like, 'What?' I thought he was talking about scouting reports or something like that. But then I realized he meant you can't remember that great game you had last night, or the bad game you had last night. For a closer, every day is a new day, you have to be able to turn that page real quick, and move on and be able to go out and give your team a chance that following night."