We’re down to the last three games of the regular season, the Tribe is fighting for a spot in the wildcard playoff game — and suddenly the team finds that it is without a closer.
A closer is a crucial component of any successful modern professional baseball team. Every team craves an unflappable Mariano Rivera-type who comes in to the ninth inning with a one-run lead and the game on the line and coolly slams the door on any possible comeback. Of course, there is only one Mariano Rivera. All other closers wax and wane. They may look unhittable for a while, but then they will blow up, fritter away leads, and cause fans to tear their hair out.
The Indians’ closer, Chris Perez, has been like that this season, but even more so. He’s had a number of bad outings recently, and last night he came in when the Tribe was up by 5 runs in the ninth and got bombed, leaving it for another reliever to get the last out in what became a nail-biting 6-5 win. After the game, Perez apparently talked to Indians manager Terry Francona and said he didn’t want to cost the team games while he struggled with his pitching.
So now Francona — who has done a fantastic job managing the Tribe this year — has to make an impossible decision with the playoffs on the line. What does he do with a closer who can’t close any more, and apparently has lost the confidence that every successful closer must have? And who do you replace him with? Justin Masterson, a fine starter who is recovering from an injury? Joe Smith, the reliable eighth-inning set-up man? Closing major league ballgames requires a special type of person, and trying to find a new closer through trial and error when every game is crucial is asking the impossible. If Terry Francona can figure this out, he’s more than just a great manager — he’s a genius.