Orioles: Is There Such a Thing as a Closer?


If I were a professional baseball manager, the one element of the game that would most drive me to death would be the “closer” blowing games. However, I’m not sure if the death would be my own by suicide or the “closer” by murder, but someone’s going down!

I am going to put the word “closer” in quotation marks throughout this article, because, truth be told, I don’t believe in “closers” practically anymore than I believe in Big Foot or unicorn sightings. Yes, I know one lives in New York, and in baseball history there was an odd-looking fellow in Kansas City with a bizarre last name starting with the letter “Q.”  And for a long time there was this mustachioed “closer” dude in Oakland. But truthfully, true “closers” are few and far between, but everyone seeks to have one.

Over recent years of baseball commentary, I have written numerous times about the “closer” craze that has enveloped the modern game … a ridiculous craze in my humble opinion.  (OK – my opinion is not really that humble.)  The most recent occasion in this Birds Watcher blog was in February of 2012 and can be found by clicking HERE. I think most younger baseball fans will be surprised to read what a modern phenomenon this is to work a game toward the entrance of a final inning “closer”. To state my philosophy succinctly, I don’t believe there are hardly any true “closers” who can be depended upon game after game, and I would rather see several relievers capable of this “closer” role as game situations would dictate the best matchup for the hitters due up in the final inning.

But even as big of a “closer” skeptic as I am, I will admit that after 35 consecutive successes in that role, I was beginning to think there was such a creature in Baltimore. But then the second half of May 2013 happened, and four blown saves later, I’m back to grousing about my viewpoint that a baseball “closer” is synonymous with a baseball “myth.”

This stretch has been deadly. There are four losses that really should be victories. What looks better to you after 50 games – 27-23 or 31-19?  Yes, even the best fall down sometimes, even the wrong words seem to rhyme (that should be song lyrics!). Jim Johnson is human after all … a very large, large human, but true flesh and blood. But it is this “closer” strategy that puts a struggling guy in the game even when four consecutive left-handed Yankee batters are due up. It is the “closer” strategy that has a designated person to throw about 40 pitches in a tough 9thinning with no back-up plan. This is the strategy that brings the same “closer” in the game on consecutive or multiple consecutive days, whether the matchup is best or not.

May 25, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Johnson (43) throws against the Toronto Blue Jays in the ninth inning at the Rogers Centre. Baltimore defeated Toronto 6-5. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

This piece is not a bashing article on Jim Johnson, and if you want that, they are out there on other blogs for sure.  JJ is a great pitcher and is going to fix this current problem and contribute to the Orioles in significant ways both this season and beyond. As Buck Showalter always says, “I’m glad he’s on our side.”  And it looked on Saturday like the JJ of old had returned. But I’m not sure it was best to bring him out again the next day, and leave him there without a plan to rescue the situation if it went south. Although, to be fully fair and balanced, it is not like there are numerous options right now in that bullpen.

This is what makes baseball a great, interesting, complex, fascinating, and frustrating game all at the same time. And the final of those modifiers – frustrating – is to see how the main strength of the Orioles has morphed in such a short time to their major current concern and liability. But at the risk of sounding like an incurable fan (an aspersion I’m willing to bear), the day will arrive for this team when the hitting, starting pitching, and relief are going to come together at the same time, and it is going to be something special.