How Do You Spell “Relief”?

I see that Jonathan Papelbon, unlike a host of other relievers, acquitted himself well on Opening Day and got his first save with the Phillies. I’m glad for him, because he is a fierce competitor and deserves some success for his dedication to his craft and his team. But I’m thrilled that I don’t have to watch him painfully labor through another ninth inning.

For Papelbon and many other relievers, every pitch is a game unto itself with an exposition, rising action, a climax, and a falling action. That works well for the final pitch of the game or even in an intense rivalry like the unforgettable contests with the Yankees. But for Papelbon every pitch was like that and his deliberation was exhausting and deadening at the same time.

Relief pitchers will argue that they can break the rhythm and concentration of the batter and take control of the face-off by setting their own pace, but no one else on the field is going to argue that the ninth inning should go three times as slowly as the first eight.  The drama quickly becomes melodrama, as it becomes possible to go the refrigerator between pitches. It is almost as annoying as the way commercials interrupt more frequently as an hour-long television show enters its final fifteen minutes.

This pitch is brought to you by . . .

Of all the ways to speed up the game of baseball, the timing of pitches seems the most plausible to me.  Sure, it will return some advantage to the batter, and it could cost the reliever some mistakes in location, because he can’t recalibrate from the previous pitch. But the game should be played  “with all deliberate speed”, not at the pace of retirement.  Batters stepping out of the batter’s box should be controlled as well.

I noticed Papelbon pitching more briskly in Spring Training, so I’m curious if he will keep the pace during the regular season.  It seems like pitchers who work quickly have more confidence, more of the “here-it-is-give-it-your-best-shot” approach. Most of them are effective. I love the Tigers’ Doug Pfister for that approach. He’s always ready to throw before the batter is ready to hit. I’m sure his infielders appreciate it as well. No napping before the wind-up.

How do you spell “relief”?  A brisk, but determined  reliever keeping the game moving. Good luck to the gritty and sometimes comical Jonathan Papelbon. I’ll miss that fierce stare into the catcher, but I won’t miss the extra trips to the refrigerator.


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