Redemption: The Return of “Closing Time.”

Tom Wilhelmsen in his natural millieu-entertaining the crowd and visiting team, not necessarily throwing a baseball.
Tom Wilhelmsen in his natural millieu-entertaining the crowd and visiting team, not necessarily throwing a baseball.

The analytics-only crowd would like us all to believe the save is over-rated, that anyone can do can close out a game.. Teams shouldn’t worry about roles in a bullpen, just work the matchups and all will be well.

My sense is that most relievers disagree.  They long for roles, to know when they should be getting mentally ready to go into a game, to visualize who they will be pitching to and what they’ll be throwing.

Major league pitchers have stuff-it’s how they got to the majors.  But I’ve come to believe that much of a closer’s stuff is mental.  They know they’re the last line of defense in a winning effort, and they have to know they are better than the hitters they are facing. The batters are outs, period, the end.

But we’ve seen this season that’s easier said than done. Ask Fernando Rodney, Chicago Cub.  Ask Carson Smith and his five blown saves. He was spotless tonight in the 8th, but Lloyd won’t use to him close to the rest of this season.

One of my very favorite Mariners is Tom Wilhelmsen.  I love his story-a guy who  preferred partying and traveling to playing baseball, and came back to the game on his own terms-I love his 97 mph fastball and 12 to 6 curve, I love that he simply likes to have fun and knows how to keep the bullpen entertained.

But it’s also clear that Tommy struggles with demons out there on the mound.  His demeanor goes from happy-go-lucky Tom the Bartender performing “Hot Corner” in the Kyle Seager video, to sweating-bullets-serious-Tom.  And sometimes he seems to lose faith in his 97 mph fastball, and his curve falls off his radar instead of just off the table. He may as well be a pitching machine throwing batting practice.

But the Bartender is back, and hopefully he can continue his success for the rest of the season.  Wilhelmsen hasn’t given up a run in his last seven appearances.  He’s a perfect five for five in save situations since he was named closer on August 23rd. Tonight he threw 11 pitches to dispatch Marwin Gonzalez, Carlos Correa, and Evan Gattis, some pretty decent hitters.

Yeah, it’s been a crummy season. So I take the little victories where I can find them. If Tom can hang in there, he’ll join Franklin Guttierez as my favorite Mariner stories of the year. “Closing Time” is a great walk-up song, and I hope to hear a lot more of it.

The Bartender as bullpen skipper and enforcer.
The Bartender as bullpen skipper and enforcer.
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