Sunday, September 20, 2009

Baseball's Closers

Major league baseball is a game of specialists. Each position is manned by a rich young man who is an expert in one facet of a kid’s game. In the American League there is even a player whose only job is to hit. Usually the only generalists on the team are utility infielders and outfielders.
This specialization is most apparent in the pitching staff; there are starters, long relievers, middle inning relievers, short relievers and normally one closer.
The closer is a breed apart from the other pitchers. When his team is leading by not more than three runs, it is his job to get in and “save” the game. He does this by throwing nine or ten pitches and shutting down the opposing team by not allowing enough runs to win the game. I think his arm falls off after twelve pitches.
When his team is leading by two or three runs, it is almost a sure bet that the closer is going to give up at least one run. I believe that the secret agenda behind the closer is to keep the fans on the edge of their seats until the final out. When the closer is called upon, very few fans head for the exits to beat the crowd. They are too busy taking deep breaths and chewing on their fingernails. As one closer put it a few years ago, “Sometimes I close the game, and sometimes I make it close.”
When the closer is going well, his manager is all smiles. But when the closer has blown a few saves in succession, his manager is apt to paraphrase Henny Youngman’s famous line: “Take my closer. Please!”

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