12 May 2007

You Never Want To Go Back

by Joshua Worley

A great closer is a rare luxury; and yet once you've had one, it feels essential. Gagne was the first great closer I ever experienced as a fan, and his downfall due to injuries was a terrible blow. Going back to a more pedestrian closer was just one of the many wounds of 2005.

That's why seeing Takashi Saito dominating as the Dodger closer gives me a smile as big as the one he usually flashes at the end of a save. We're back in Gagne-land, after only a year. I don't care what the numbers say; he feels just as good as Gagne, just as dominating, just as sure a thing. I know this because of how shocked I was last night when he put the first two men on base. It seemed impossible that he might actually blow a game. Of course he didn't, and the final confrontatation with Castro was over before it began. Saito had a rare visible edge at the end of last night's game, without the usual smile after the final punchout, at least that the cameras showed.

So much of being a fan is about the feelings, at least the way I do it. I never felt confident with Jeff Shaw or Todd Worrell. They were big names who could rack up the save totals but always left the possibility that the game might escape every time they came in. Broxton, the Dodger closer of the future, is just about as good as Saito by the numbers, maybe even better, but he doesn't yet give me that invincible feeling either. This is not to say I would ever object to having Broxton as the closer. In fact, I hope that when he does move into that role, he will earn that invincible feeing as well. But he needs a little more before he can reach the Gagne/Saito level. He has the great fastball, a good curveball, but he doesn't yet seem to have the pitch that just completely puts batters off-balance. Gagne had his ridiculous diving change-up, Saito has his bizarre corner slider thing that seems to mesmerize umpires into calling it a strike even though it looks three inches off the plate. When I watch Saito pitch I get the feeling that his pitches could do anything, dart in any direction, even do physically impossible things like speed up or rise. He doesn't throw as hard as Gagne, but he's just as unpredictable. Broxton needs to learn another pitch, says I, the fan who doesn't really know what he's talking about. But I want to keep having this invincible closer feeling thing going, and in the spirit of all irrational desires this one has ill-defined imprecise conditions that go along with it. Blowing away hitters with fastballs is fine, but I want more: I want them to feel like they have to guess at what pitch is coming to have even a shot of hitting it. I want them to leave the batter's box after strike three thinking that they never want to go back to face him again.

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