Two Outs. Two Strikes. Hoffman On The Hill. Game Over, Right? Right…?
I like Trevor Hoffman. He seems like a decent enough fellow. Probably calls his momma every now and then, and doesn’t actively look to kick puppies or throw rocks at kids. Plus, he’s the second-best closer in major league history, and if I’m not mistaken, he started the whole relievers-marching-in-to-theme-music-like-pro-wrestlers craze when he entered a game to the strains of “Hell’s Bells.”
That said, there’s a part of me that hopes that during this year’s World Series, he’s standing on the mound during a Game 7 in Chicago or Detroit, up one run but with the bases full behind him, and he thinks, “Damn…this probably would have been easier if it was happening in San Diego.”
Background: last night was the All-Star Game, which the National League (home of my Atlanta Braves) has not won since 1996. Fine, the AL’s lumber tends to overwhelm the NL’s pitching year after year. But a few years back, Major League Baseball made the asinine decision to allow these allegedly “exhibition” games to count–they would determine home-field advantage in the World Series. It’s an inherently flawed idea, though the previous one–alternating home-field based on the year–wasn’t that much better.
Still, what you end up with is something like last night, where the Nats were one freakin’ strike away from a win, and Hoffman–Mister Second-Greatest Closer In The History of the Game, remember–gave up three two-out hits, capped by a two-run triple to Michael Young, the most anonymous batting leader in the history of the majors. Urk.
It’s yet another reason why I (and probably most major league GMs) get queasy at the thought of closers. They’re not as bad as field goal kickers–at least a closer is continuing the established pattern of the game, not coming in to dink (or miss) three points with his foot after 59 minutes of a running and passing game. But still–every closer eventually fails, and like your car breaking down, it tends to be at the worst possible time. Even Mariano Rivera–pretty much hands down the best big-game closer ever–has a couple notable collapses (the 2001 World Series, where he blew Game 7; the 2004 playoffs, where he was the last straw to break when the Yankees gave up a 3-games-to-none lead to lose the series to the Red Sox). I still get nightmares over Mark Wohlers’ hanging slider to Jim Leyritz in the 1996 World Series, where the Braves coughed up a 2-0 game lead and a 6-0 lead in Game 4. Leyritz hit the ball halfway to Alpharetta, and the Braves haven’t won a single World Series game since.
So, for all the woes the Braves’ bullpen is having–more blown saves this year than anybody in the game–I take some small schadenfreude-esque comfort in knowing that we’re not alone…and for some poor fans out there, it’s going to get worse this season. Much worse.