When Is a Closer Not a Closer?

May 25, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54) pitches during the ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park. The Reds defeated the Cubs 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Do you like puzzles or riddles? When is a door not a door? When its ajar. Here is one for you.

When is a closer not a closer? When it is not the ninth inning according to the unflappable Dusty Baker. There will be no four-or-five out closes on his watch, mister. You hear me?

The closer is a rare bird to be sure. About four years ago, when I was just a pup of 58, I wrote an article about closers, comparing them to super-heroes. This is not a cheap ploy to have you look at one of my earlier articles, it is just that it could be helpful to put a backlight on this one.

Convention dictates that a closer enters the game in the 9th inning with his team ahead by fewer than four runs, period. A closer is, or should be the best, most dependable pitcher in the bullpen. So, why not open the window, throw convention out on its ear and bring in the closer at any critical time in the eighth or ninth inning.

If a man is throwing a shutout, especially a one-or-two hitter, with only 85 pitches thrown, should he not have a chance to go out and finish? Providing of course, he doesn’t think he can do it. Put him on a one-man leash.

If the closer doesn’t close, do you call him a “blower”? You know, because he just blew a save.

They didn’t really have closers in the old days. By old days, I am referring to the early sixties. Oh they had relief pitchers, most of whom were former starters who had lost their way. The actual “save” wasn’t adopted into the rules until 1969. Some say that Bruce Sutter was the game’s first closer in 1979.

The most wins in a season by a relief pitcher is 18, by Roy Face of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959. He is the first “true” reliever that I knew of growing up. Out of his 848 career games, he only started 27 in those 16 years.

Where are you going with this, you may ask. Glad you asked. Theoretically in a perfect world, a closer performing his scripted duties, would have no wins. He would either save the game for the starter, blow it for him, or blow it big time and get the loss, the big Double Whammy. Usually when you see a closer win a game, in a ‘save’ situation, he blew the save and sent it into the 10th inning, won it and was saved by Mop-up Man. There are probably scenarios other than this but I doubt it.

I don’t know how a closer or setup man can hold his head up when he lets a team down repeatedly. Not pointing any fingers here.

Have ‘gut’ feelings and hunches gone the way of the slinky and hula-hoop? Have fastidious statisticians and SABR guys dictated what the managers now do in every situation? If so, it is probably more exciting just to play a game of Strat-o-Matic. Get the dice ready.

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