As we've known all along, I'm new to this bullpen thing. I think I've pitched in relief less than 10 times in my career, and that includes the 2000 Series Championship when I came out and pitched the last three innings of Game 7 on zero days of rest (let me just add how I won Game 6 and pitched 7.2 innings - ahh, the glories of a youthful arm).
You see baseball from a different perspective in the outfield, behind a big fence. You're not as close, like if you're watching from the dugout. And the TV isn't as good as in the clubhouse, should you slip back there during a game for a beverage or a bathroom break. It's all different, but that doesn't make it bad.
Billy Weston has been this team's closer for three years (this being his fourth). I know saves aren't as big a deal to loads of people because most come after only one inning of work, but the fact that Billy has averaged 39 saves over his time here still says something about how well he's pitched his one inning per game.
Nobody expected him to get hurt two weeks ago, especially him. He owned this bullpen due to his dominance. From what I'm hearing, he won't be back for up to four months.
Billy had a a bunch of superstitions whenever the call came for him to start warming up.
First, if he was sitting, he had to get off of his butt and take a first step with his left foot.
He had to carry his glove in both hands and make it to the bullpen mound (not the rubber) within 8 steps. In some stadiums, where the mound is farther away from where the relief pitchers sit, Billy had to take 8 very large steps. When he tweaked his hamstring in 2006, it was a result of one very large step, some damp ground and a slip.
He had to brush his left foot over the entire topping of the bullpen pitching rubber and then take three long, deep, cleansing breaths before asking, in Spanish, for the bullpen catcher to throw him the ball. "Pelota," he'd say.
He'd throw 11 pitches minimum and pronounce himself ready. He wouldn't throw any more than 21 pitches for fear of gassing himself too early. And the bullpen catcher had to yell out numbers as soon as Billy got to 8. Just the catcher could do it. Anyone else and he'd get thrown off.
Then there was his music. His theme song was/is "Eruption" by Van Halen. It had to begin being played in his home stadium (this goes all the way back to 1997), the moment his right foot touched the outfield warning track. He had to make it to the infield by a certain point in the song, skipping over the edge of the grass that separates infield dirt from the outfield, then make it to the mound by another particular point of the song.
I could go on. It involves shaking hands after a save, the way he disrobed after a game on the road vs. at home, the length of time in the shower, etc. It gets a little much.
So when I got back up to the bigs and started spending my time in the bullpen, I was in shock to the inhabitants of this space. I'm not a real superstition guy. I have certain quirks, like what I will and won't eat before a game and what time I need to get to bed the night before, but my ways aren't as colorful as Billy's.
The music, now that's apparently a big deal. Fans really want to get pumped up when their closer comes onto the field. That means the team is ahead and merely three outs from victory. The last season and one-sixth (because we're one-sixth of the way through this year), there have been few opportunities for a closer to come out because we haven't won too many games.
But that seems to be changing since my call up from the rehab assignment.
In the nine games that we've played since I've been back, I've pitched six times. Considering we were 12-23 back then and are now 20-24, we've made some good progress. We were 11 games back and now we're only seven.
Seven games from first with five-sixths of the season to go is not too big a mountain to climb.
Especially when you're closer (that's me) is 6 for 6 in save opportunities and hasn't given up a run yet. Especially when your closer has struck out eight batters in six innings. Especially when your closer runs in from the outfield to"Working For A Living" by Huey Lewis & The News.
Huey Lewis & The News? They're supposed to pump the crowd up?
Well, I don't know. I was asked what song did I want and this one popped into my head. I always liked the band and liked this version of the song. It kind of pumps me up. It's upbeat and fun and I like how the harmonica solo leads into a cool guitar solo.
So, is it the coolest song for a closer to come in with? Is it "Hells Bells" or "Eruption?? Nope. It's Huey. I like it. It's what I want to hear when that call comes for me to head out and pitch the bottom of the ninth.
And as long as the song finishes between the time I release my seventh warm-up pitch and when the catcher catches it, less than a second later, I'm happy. But don't end it early or late. That'll screw up my whole day.