The last 3 outs of a ball game are the hardest to get. That’s how the baseball saying goes. It’s a saying that gets repeated by baseball commentators when the 9th inning in a game comes and a team’s closer comes in. Getting the last 3 outs of a baseball game is considered such a hard job that every team has just one closer just for the 9th inning.
If a team’s closer gets injured or performs badly enough to lose the closer’s role sometimes teams will use a “closer by committee”. That means instead of having one set reliever pitch the 9th inning, the team uses whatever reliever is best suited to pitch against the part of the lineup that is coming up to hit in the 9th, in that particular game. Teams don’t like using closer by committee because they believe being a closer requires being able to handle pressure and that not all relievers can handle the pressure.
The closer isn’t the only reliever that’s specialized. There are relievers that pitch to just lefties, relievers that pitch to just righties. There are relievers that can pitch multiple innings if the team’s starting pitcher gets knocked out of the game before the 5th inning ends. Some teams even have specific relievers that pitch the 8th inning. They are called set up men because they are supposed to keep the teams lead, setting up the closer to save the lead in the 9th.
Teams insist on having a closer because the last 3 outs of the ball game are the hardest to get and they want that reliever that can handle the pressure. When a team has a specific reliever pitch the 8th inning it’s usually because they are much better than the other relievers in the bullpen.
The Toronto Blue Jays have such a good bullpen that anyone besides there closer can pitch the 8th inning. After Alex Anthopoulos loaded the bullpen at last season’s trade deadline all the relievers in the Blue Jays bullpen pitched the 8th inning at some point during the rest of the season.
It shouldn’t be any different in 2013 because every reliever in the Blue Jays bullpen is as good as the other so the Blue Jays don’t have to stick with just 1 or 2 guys pitching the 8th. They can just see who is coming up to hit for the other team in the 8th and decide which of their relievers is best suited to pitch that game.
The other team has tough left handed hitters coming up? The Blue Jays can turn to whatever left handed relievers make the team, Aaron Loup, Brett Cecil or Darren Oliver. The other team has hitters coming up that are good at putting the ball in play? The Jays have some hard throwing relievers that can put a stop to that with Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar, Esmil Rogers and Brad Lincoln.
Having anyone pitch the 8th inning also lets the Blue Jays properly rest there relievers. Resting relievers is important because there are so many games in a season and you never know when you’ll have a game where the whole bullpen needs to pitch. It also doesn’t let the other team make a specific game plan for the 8th inning when they don’t know who will be pitching it that day.
Closer by committee may not be an option for teams because of the pressure but the Blue Jays being able to set up by committee gives them more flexibility than you can ask for.