Closing 101: How Top MLB Firemen Do It
Coming into a MLB game in the ninth inning, listening to your favorite rock or rap song surely will get you a bit nervous/pumped up/downright scared.
In my case, that song happens to be "Wonderwall" by Oasis. Yes, it may seem like a sissy song to walk out to, but read the lyrics , especially the refrain, and you will understand.
For MLB closers like Heath Bell, the nervousness/adrenaline/fear are what he thrives on. The pressure is what makes him good. At 6'3" and a husky 250 pounds, Bell looks like the butcher at your local deli who didn't give enough meat to his dog. He is a fun guy, and regularly uses his Wii Fit board to stay in shape. Off a baseball field, Bell doesn't seem like an imposing man.
But once he steps onto the mound at Petco Park in the ninth inning to the tune of "Blow Me Away" by Breaking Benjamin, he is quite imposing.
Bell's high-90s fastball sure helps.
Heat is a common denominator with closers. All closers throw upwards of 90 mph, and most throw over 95. But the gift all closers have is pure stuff.
Mariano Rivera might not throw 95 mph anymore, but his cutter is downright filthy, and even though he throws it nearly every pitch, it still is nasty enough to break hitters’ bats and paint corners.
Chad Qualls, the former closer for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and now a late-inning relief pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays, throws a heavy sinker at 92 mph. The vertical break on his sinker is nasty, and not many sinkerballers can throw that hard. His slider is also hard, coming in at 86 mph and breaking heavily away from right-handed hitters.
But this year, Qualls hasn't kept the ball down, leading to his sinkers sinking to mid-thigh height and becoming easily hittable, hence Qualls's 8.01 ERA this season.
Jonathan Broxton, the closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, is a freak. With an intimidating frame of 6'4" and 295 pounds, Broxton brings it into triple digits regularly. His sinker is like Qualls's, only Broxton's is around five mph faster. He isn't afraid of any hitter, and that may be his greatest asset.
Well, I wouldn't be afraid of anybody if I was 6'4", 295, would you?
Francisco Rodriguez, "K-Rod," the closer for the New York Mets, is another in the long list of closers who have dominating stuff. K-Rod regularly cranks his fastball into the upper 90s, with corner-to-corner tailing movement on his heater. His curveball nearly hits 80 mph and is a devastating strikeout pitch. His emotions sometimes get the best of him, but K-Rod is fun to watch.
Ah, my favorite closer, Brian Wilson. Wilson, even though he isn't as physically imposing as Broxton or Bell, is one of the best in the business. Wilson throws 99 mph regularly, and the scary part is that he paints corners with his heater. His cutter hovers around 90 mph, which makes my Pirates look that much worse, because almost all of their starting rotation's fastballs are slower than Wilson's cutter.
So closers all pretty much have one thing in common: A special gift. That gift may be great velocity, great movement, great control, or great craftiness, but all closers have a special gift.
(They all pretty much have a good fist pump too!)
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