I have often leaned against the tide when it comes to defending the role of a closer. But managers do take it too far and you would think someone with the reputation of Joe Maddon would not be one of those guys who goes with accepted dugout wisdom. But he does. What is that accepted dugout wisdom? If you are on the road, you do not pitch your closer in a tie game because if you get the lead, you want the closer finishing off the home team in the bottom half of an inning. Mr. Maddon should understand that this logic often misfires because a game is often lost by lesser relief pitchers while your best reliever sits in the bullpen. It has happened twice to the Rays in the last four days.
It happened on Monday in Boston and it happened again last night in Baltimore. In the Boston game, the Red Sox were leading going into the top of the ninth, 2-1. Boston's closer, Andrew Bailey, blew the save and allowed the Rays to tie the game at two runs apiece. Does Maddon bring in Fernando Rodney for the win? Heck no. You have to save the closer in case you take the lead, right?
Wrong. The Rays never got a chance to take the lead as Joel Peralta was brought in instead. Now Joel Peralta is a very good relief pitcher. Do not get me wrong here. But Peralta has not been as good as Rodney. And sure enough, Peralta gets in trouble and coughs up the walk-off hit and sends the Rays off to Baltimore for a crummy plane ride.
Then last night against the Orioles, The game again was tied and going into extra innings. Maddon goes with the same accepted practice and Jamey Wright and Brandon Gomes are allowed to throw away the game while Rodney sat in the bullpen.
I hate this practice and use of a closer. Yes, you need a closer to finish off games. But you also need to aggressively pursue a victory too. There is no law against using your best reliever to pitch two innings of superior baseball to give your team at least a chance to win the game.
Yes, Fernando Rodney could have just as easily blown the game. But you have to think you have a better chance to win with Rodney pitching a couple of innings than bringing in Wright and Gomes and hoping you get a chance to give Rodney a save.
This strategy is defensive thinking and you would think Joe Maddon would be running against the tide here. But he does not and has two losses for his team to show for it. In the tight American League East, two games could mean a huge difference at the end of the season.