“The two most important things in life are good friends and a strong bullpen.” ~ Bob Lemon (Cleveland Indians Pitcher, 1941-1958. Manager of the Royals, White Sox, & Yankees.)
What’s the difference between my good friends and the Orioles’ bullpen?
None of my friends melted down on Monday night. (Also, not as much spitting. Thank you for that.)
The Baltimore Orioles’ bullpen fell apart Monday night in Arizona. (It’s was a pitchfork-hot 108 in Phoenix yesterday, but that was nothing compared to the meltdown inside Chase Field.)
One by one the Oriole relievers came out to the mound. One by one, they gave up runs. Tying runs, go ahead runs, tying runs, go ahead runs.
Finally, with the game tied in the ninth, Darren O’Day, the trusty sidearmer, came out, threw one ball – just one lousy pitch. Emphasis on lousy. Homerun. Game over.
Oh sure, we all have bad days. But, I’m grateful that I don’t have thousands of people peering over my shoulder, second-guessing, and jeering when I have mine. It’s a gift, I think, to endure a bad day in the shadows … where no one can see you sulk.
The Orioles weren’t the only team with a leaky bullpen last night. By the end of the night, there were three blown saves recorded in that game. THREE. And, only one belonged to the Orioles. The Diamondbacks won, despite two blown saves from their relievers.
So, a bad night to be a reliever.
Baseball fans say that a lot.
But, instead of jeering and heckling and second-guessing, I’m here to praise the bullpen. The Orioles bullpen. Every bullpen.
Next to Umpires, the most thankless job in baseball.
It’s where starting pitchers are punished. A few bad outings, a few hinky pitches, and a starting pitcher is banished to the ‘pen. One is seldom “promoted” to the bullpen.
(And, how about the use of “hinky” in a sentence? I should stop right now.)
It’s where mascots are crammed together, squeezed in tight with the relievers, as they await a race around the warning track.
If you look carefully, you can make out the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cat relievers in the bullpen trying to ignore all the mascots.
It’s where Minnesota Twins’ relievers spend a year patiently waiting for that one brief perfect moment to prank the cameras. Oh, come on I know you want to watch … here.
It’s where pitchers catch homeruns in their caps.
It’s where rookies carry backpacks filled with candy and snacks. (What else is there to do while you wait for your starting pitcher to fall apart?)
A’s Reliever Sean Doolittle’s Twitter Bio says this: I get to play baseball with my friends for a living and sometimes they even let me be pitcher for an inning!
It’s where no one ever gets to be hero and everyone is the goat eventually.
When you come in from the bullpen and fail, most likely you’ve cost your team the game. Even the greatest bullpen pitchers will fail from time to time. (Yes, even Mariano Rivera.)
They will be booed and heckled. Mercilessly. By the time they come into the game, your nastiest hecklers are already well into their cups … many, many beers to the wind. The more beer, the louder and stupider the heckle. It’s a fact.
When bullpen pitchers succeed, when they hold the lead, you won’t hear a word. The batters will be rewarded for scoring plenty of runs. The starting pitcher will be lauded for not letting a game get away. The bullpen? Hey, they were just doing their job.
Remember Jay? My new favorite thing to do is bounce ideas off of him. So, Jay, what do you have to say about relievers?
It is the nature of the role that relief pitchers make you nervous. The term “relief” implies you aren’t the real thing — you are on standby in case something happens – i.e., a relief valve. That is why relief pitchers got no respect at all until they invented euphemisms to class them up — thus, the “closer” – sounds important; “set-up guy” – sounds tricky; “long man” – actually sounds superfluous, but you get the idea.
There are a lot of things that can go wrong in a game. My Editor/Husband will moan like a cat with a hairball whenever a bad play unfolds. But, when the bullpen gets lit up, that’s when he gets really animated. (“Animated” is sort of like heckling but without all the beer.)
A position player can strike out once or twice in a game. But, as soon as he does this … all is forgiven.
A starting pitcher can have a tough first inning, but somewhere tonight in America a broadcaster will say, “He’s settled down from a shaky first.”
Bullpen pitchers don’t have the luxury of a shaky first.
So, the Orioles bullpen had a bad night. But, they’ve had plenty more good nights.
So, yay, for the bullpen.
And, relievers everywhere.
For Moe Drabowsky, the wacky prankster. For Mike Marshall, who in 1974 became the first reliever to win the Cy Young (and in true quirky reliever fashion actually became a big league pitcher simply because he wanted to study pitching arm injuries for his PhD.)
And, for every reliever who has had a bad game … or blown a save (or two or seven). Rest up, guys, because we’ll need you to be ready to try again for us tomorrow.