There are many aspects that are crucial in the wonderful game of baseball. In the Majors and any level of the sport for that matter, pitching is definitely the most important of them all. Ultimately, pitching dictates the success of the team and the momentum of the game. If the guy on the mound is dominating, everyone on the field with the same jersey on his back has a little more jump in their step and any hint of inhibition is out the window. The shortstop will make the long throw from the hole, the centre fielder will lay out for the gap shot because deep down that player knows the hurler will exit from tough situations on his own. It takes a gifted and mentally buff chucker to carry a team on his back and this type of gem is rare. This is why there is a bullpen. Not every pitcher can go to the end and not every starter can leave his heart on the field. The bullpen is what saves teams and becomes the make-or-break for post-season thoughts.
In the early-early of this 2011 MLB season, Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire was literally sweating bullets over his bullpen and the risk of overusing their arms. I saw the sweat myself, I had my microphone in his face asking about the worries and the issues surrounding the infamous call to the bullpen. How much was too much, when there are 160+ games in the stretch. He had a deep concern, Gardenhire was not getting enough pitches/innings from his starters and in return that could effect his closer’s arms in the long-run. Closers and middle relievers have only so much gas in the tank and if you run it bone-dry, you are cutting the franchise short of their capabilities.
Infamous White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen absolutely lost it on Wednesday after his bullpen blew ANOTHER lead to the Oakland A’s. Chicago lead the majority of the game 4-1, but when Guillen had to bring in three separate closers in the ninth to protect those three runs, the frustration boiled. “I don’t have a closer and when you have a bad bullpen, that’s what happens. I wish I knew who I can bring in the ninth. I mean, now we’ll try everyone in one inning. No more excuses,” Guillen said.
The fact that the Sox have blown six saves and now have a 7-5 record, it appears that my above statement is true. Pitching is everything and of course, the bullpen is the final chapter of the role. Want to hear an alarming stat? The relieving pitchers for the White Sox this season have combined for a 6.14 ERA, yikes. Effective late-game pitchers do not have earned run averages that high.
To put it bluntly, I would feel lost if I were in Guillen’s cleats. What do you do? Who do you sign? They are already at a franchise-high payroll of $127 million. All one can do is keep working them, allow them to get the reps and let the chips fall where they may. Harshly enough though, that may not cut it this year.
A glorified story of a man with 564 career saves is arguably the best closer in the game’s history and needs no introduction. He has seen everything the past-time has to offer. New York faithful Mariano Rivera is a five-time World Series Champion with the Yankees. Yes, he has blown a handful of big games. We all remember Arizona, Game Seven of the 2001 World Series. I actually broke down and cried. I will never forget the day. I was in Florida for a tournament of my own, on my birthday and the one pitcher I always looked up to gave up the game-winning hit. It probably made for a terrible birthday for him as well, we happen to share the same birthday month. Getting to my point, this man has seen more success against big clubs than any other pitcher. He is an eleven-time American League All-Star and defines what it is to have depth and faith in a closing pitcher.
Rivera continues to dominate and it is apparent that he is not allowing age to slow him down either. The veteran already has seven saves and a single win in this early season. He has only allowed four hits in 8.1 innings pitched with a 0.00 ERA. That is pretty impressive for a forty-one year old. A great way to analyze a pitcher’s real pedigree, is to look at walks, earned runs and strikeouts. He currently has seven K’s and zero in the BB’s and ER’s. ‘The Sandman’ (nickname given by Yankees fans) jogs out to the mound with swagger whenever he gets the call from the bullpen because he knows with that one magnificent pitch he has, (cutter) the game’s fate is in his hands.
Closing games brings championships and happiness to last a lifetime. Rivera is my hero and always will be. The White Sox bullpen right now? Not so much…