Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I feel a little badly for Javier Lopez




Let me explain.

I have a mild obsession with pitchers getting the last out of a playoff series. It was my great fantasy as a kid to be like Tug McGraw, arms up in the air, celebrating a last out.

And I like it when unlikely people get to have that honor. Usually it is the bullpen closer who does it. Last year Jason Motte was the closer for the Cardinals and threw the clinching pitch of the NLCS and World Series.

The year before Brian Wilson of the Giants was the closer and he did the honors in all three rounds of the post season. Mariano Rivera did so the year before. Brad Lidge the year before that.

If not a closer, then the other most common scenario has a starting pitcher throwing a complete game. We saw that with Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia in this year's Division Series. Jose Contreras closed out the 2005 ALCS for the White Sox. Josh Beckett went all nine to finish the 2003 World Series for the Marlins.

But every once in a while you get an unlikely guy to toss the final pitch. Usually it either happens in an extra inning game where the closer was already used (like Toronto's Mike Timlin clinching the 1992 World Series) or a middle reliever was very effective in a situation (like Ramiro Mendoza in the 1999 ALCS for the Yankees) or the closer is just gassed and they needed someone else (like Alan Embree giving Keith Foulke a break for the 2004 Red Sox in the ALCS.)

They are not common occurrences, but I love it when they happen.

So in the ninth inning during a monsoon, Javier Lopez was on the mound. He is usually a one batter relief specialist. He appeared in 70 games in 2012 and threw 36 innings. He rarely throws an entire inning and finished only 19 games with seven saves.

He usually does not get the glory. He has a thankless job of coming into the game, getting one batter out, and leaving.

So here was his chance to be on the mound when the Giants clinched. It would be an image of Lopez jumping in the air when they clinched. The team would run out and mob Lopez.

Like Timlin, Embree and Mendoza before him, this was going to be the signature moment of his career.

And he got two outs in the ninth inning, but walked Carlos Beltran.

Bochy came out and brought in his closer, Sergio Romo, who clinched the Division Series against the Reds.

I thought "Oh come on Bochy. Let Lopez face Matt Holliday. The worst thing that could happen is he hits a home run to make it 9-3. Give Lopez this moment to shine."

He took him out. Romo got the last out and the cool clip of dancing on the mound.

The Giants mobbed Romo and the celebration was on.

I do not know where Lopez was in that celebration. No doubt he was hugging and high fiving his teammates.

But if he got that last out, I would know exactly where he was, and so would the rest of the baseball world.

I called my dad last night and told him about my sympathy for Mr. Lopez.

"I wouldn't worry about him" my dad said. "If you came up to him, he'd show you his two World Series rings and say it was OK."

Maybe so. But he would have had a cool clip to go along with those rings.

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