Getting to the closer is a game in itself


If anybody ever wrote a Broadway musical about big-league managers, the title would be a natural: "Get Me To The Closer On Time."

The way baseball is played today, every team and manager is dependent on one pitcher who can get three outs and preserve a lead. As our good friend, the late Charley Eckman, used to say, "It's a very simple game."

Or is it?

Sometimes the formula used to reach the desired game situation can get more than a little complicated. The maneuvering often is hard to explain.

On successive days, Orioles manager Phil Regan and his predecessor, Johnny Oates, used similar tactics in an effort to assure their closers would not go to waste. It worked (although barely) on Sunday for Regan, who lifted Jamie Moyer with a 3-0 lead, two out and the tying run at bat in the eighth inning.

Monday night, with the tying run at first and one out in the eighth, Oates removed Texas Rangers starter Bob Tewksbury. A two-out double by Brady Anderson tied the score -- and foiled the move.

In both instances, the moves were made for one reason -- to eventually get to the closer with a ninth-inning lead. Neither Regan nor Oates wanted to risk the possibility of the game being tied.

There is a simple reason for such rationale. By having the last turn at bat, the home team is generally considered to have a slight advantage. There is, however, a major exception to that premise. Once a game goes into extra innings, the home team is at a major disadvantage because it has lost the use of its closer.

Sometimes the complexities get in the way of the game's pure simplicity. In this area, baseball has become so specialized that only in drastic circumstances will you see the home team's ace reliever pitch in any inning other than the ninth.

Closers have become so valuable they almost never pitch without a lead -- or for more than an inning. Under those guidelines, once a game enters the ninth inning with the score tied, the home team's closer becomes a non-factor because it is no longer possible for him to appear in a game with a lead to protect.

On Sunday, Regan needed one more out to get to his closer, Doug Jones. He got there, although setup man Terry Clark made him squirm by giving up a two-run double after replacing Moyer. Monday, Oates needed two outs from left-hander Ed Vosberg against left-handed hitters Curtis Goodwin and Anderson to get to his closer, Jeff Russell.

Anderson's ensuing game-tying double (following a balk and Goodwin's groundout) effectively eliminated Russell as a factor. As soon as the Orioles got the lead in the 13th, Jones was available to finish up.

There are arguments for and against the moves by Regan and Oates. Both starters had been extremely effective, yet were in a position to allow the tying run (Moyer) or both the tying and go-ahead runs (Tewksbury).

But the overriding factor in both cases was that Regan and Oates were trying to make sure they could get to their closer. As the managers of the home team, they knew that had to be the ninth inning.

It's all part of the game called "Get Me To the Closer On Time."

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