Friday, September 16, 2016

The Etiquette of Closure

Dillen Betances had nothing last night. From about his second pitch on it was clear that the ordinarily outstanding Yankee reliever had no zip on his fastball nor control of it. To have him try to finish what had been a 5-2 lead over the Red Sox in the ninth was an invitation to disaster.

Betances was left in, and blew up as spectacularly as when careless folks forget to defrost their planned deep-fried turkey on Thanskgiving. Hanley Ramirez hit a three-run homer and Boston won 7-5, in a game the Sox needed to win, but that the Yanks absolutely couldn't afford to lose.

Second guesses of New York manager Joe Girardi were few and far between. Closers pitch the ninth and are expected to finish it. The revolutionary strategy of the '80s is the iron dogma of 2016. If Betances couldn't complete the assignment, too bad for him and his team, but that's baseball.

Why is that? Why is the specialist closer the only pitcher on a staff not subject to preventative replacement, the only one who's ALWAYS taken out only after it's too late to do any good? It is commonplace for the sport's true ace starters, the Bumgarners, Kershaws, Sales, etc. to be quickly yanked in the early innings of a game if their skipper thinks bad has no place to go but worse. But in the ninth, with one, two or three measly outs to go, a pitcher will be left to douse a potential win in gasoline and then light the fire with a Roman candle.

Girardi had a much better view of Betances than I did, and is far more qualified to judge pitching. He had to see what I did, that his stellar relief ace should never have opened the bullpen door. Bad night? Overwork? The reason didn't matter. The evidence should have. Yet a most competent and veteran manager chose to go down with his ship firing meatballs to the most dangerous lineup in the game. And 29 other managers would have done the same.

Baseball doesn't get new ideas very often, so it loves the ones it does get, loves them to death. The Closer was a new idea once. Now, it's just another dogma in a sport that says "you see something new everyday in this game" but doesn't really believe it.


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