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Trust in God and Keep a Strong Bullpen

“A fellow has to have faith in God above and Rollie Fingers in the bullpen.” Alvin Dark

043Tides Reliever Alberto Castillo against Charlotte

Organizations often face time when due to either talent, injuries or staffing shortages that they must make adjustments in mid-stride in order to continue to function.  Nowhere is this more apparent than on a baseball team, especially in relationship to the pitching staff.  The bullpen must be good in order for a team to weather the ups and downs of a season as well as the ups and downs of the starting rotation. When the starters are doing well and being supported by good hitting a good bullpen is what ensures the win.  When a starter slips up and has a bad outing a good bullpen steps up and gets the game back under control to give their offense a chance to win.  Conversely if a starting rotation is not doing well, either due to injuries, lack of talent or lack of experience the bullpen has to take up the slack.  In such cases even a good bullpen staffed with experienced relievers can get worn down by being forced to pitch too many innings too many times.  This became apparent to me last night as I watched the Yankees beat the Red Sox.  The Red Sox starter, in fact the last three starters had pitched well, unfortunately due to a number of times during the past few weeks the starters had been beaten up force the relief staff to do a lot more work than they are programmed to do.  Thus when the game got into the deep innings, particularly on when the teams went over 14 scoreless innings, the Red Sox bullpen was ground down.  In the end they ended up losing games to the Yankees despite good performances from the starters but lousy hitting, Yankees pitching blanking the Red Sox for 31 innings before the Red Sox Victor Martinez managed a two run home run in top of the 8th in Sunday night’s game. It was then that the Red Sox bullpen fell apart with Daniel Bard and Hideki Okijima combining to give up 4 runs on 5 hits including 2 home runs, all with two outs and no one on base.

To have an effective bullpen you have to have a staff that knows their roles and are comfortable coming on in relief. By way of analogy my military career has been marked where I have had to go into a situation in relief of someone who had been fired, transferred early or was hurt, I experienced this as a Company Commander and a good number of times as a chaplain.  All of these came with little or no notice, much the way a relief pitcher is called upon to do.  If you have worked in some institutional setting such as the military, this is a common occurrence.   The key to such situations, just like baseball, is that the person coming in relief needs to know what their role is.  Is this a short relief outing, to get a specific task done, like a pitcher might be put in to face one batter and no one else?  Or is it to recover a situation and stay in the game for an extended period of time, or even to come on in the final inning to close out the game?  No matter what it is the reliever must know his role, just as someone being brought in a institutional setting to take over in a difficult situation needs to know what he or she is expected to accomplish and how much time they are expected to be in.  Thus the onus is on the organization, in particular the leadership to know what the abilities of their “relievers” are and be forthright in telling them what they need to accomplish.

In building an organization you need people on your staff that are suited to change gears in the middle of something and go into a relief situation.  It is true in baseball as well as life.  As a season ticket holder for the Norfolk Tides Baseball Club, the AAA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles I watch a lot of baseball from my seat in section 102, row B seat 2.  The Tides started out the year with a great starting pitching rotation most of who have been called to the majors as well as relief staff.  The still have decent pitching but it is not up to the level that it was at the beginning of the season. Whereas earlier in the season up until the All-Star break the starters we getting good starts and relievers were able to come in later in the game in roles that they were ready to fulfill.  Now with our losses and the addition of pitchers called up from AA or A ball we are struggling in this department.  With starters not getting quality starts or not going deep into the game the relief staff has been worn down. Pitchers who were solid earlier in the year are not as dependable, and this comes often from having to come in too early, too often in situations where the games are already out of hand.  Yet even so tonight I saw relievers Kam Mikolio and Alberto Castillo regain control of the game in the 8th and 9th inning, but too late to do any good because the damage had been done earlier against Andy Mitchell the statrer and Jim Miller who came on in middle relief.

In the majors a staff needs a couple of guys who can come in to do long or middle relief, a couple of set up pitchers and a good closer.  Ever since the Oakland A’s used Rollie Fingers in this role the relief pitchers have become an vital part of any pitching staff and good managers know when the right time to pull a pitcher and put in the right reliever is.  Good managers also know to let the relief know what is expected.  In places that I have done well in relief I knew what my mission was, how long it was going to be and set myself to accomplish that mission.  When the relief appearance was ill defined and I did not have much experience I would do well for a while and then get in trouble because I had to use the baseball term gone beyond my pitch count or overmatched.

Sometimes even excellent relievers get beat up. Everyone has a bad day and even guys like Mariano Rivera, Francisco Rodriguez and Jonathan Papelbon occasionally get roughed up.  However, most of the time these pitchers have enjoyed success because they were part of a pitching staff that was strong in both starters and relievers.  A good reliever on a bad team often gets worn down.  Likewise when organizations suffer significant losses the people left, experienced and inexperienced, strong and weak are put into situation after situation where they have to do more on less rest.

russ ortizRuss Ortiz

Tonight I met pitcher Russ Ortiz who has played a good number of years in the majors.  He was recently picked up by the New York Yankees after being released by the Astros.  He was assigned to the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees and is making a start tomorrow night.  This evening he was charting the game for the Yankees in section 100.  Now Russ was with the Giants in 2002 when they went to the World Series against the Angels.  With one out in the bottom of the 7th leading 5-0 Ortiz gave up two hits and was replaced by Manager Dusty Baker with set-up man Felix Rodriguez.  Rodriguez gave up a 3 run home run to Scott Spiezio.  The Angles picked up three more off Rodriguez and closer Rob Nen to go ahead and win the game.  I told Ortiz that I still curse the day that Baker pulled him and told him how much I thought that he deserved the win.  Ortiz is a gentleman and nice guy.  Standing back with Elliott the Usher I meet a decent number of players and Ortiz is a class act.  I asked Russ if he would do me a favor and sign a baseball card for me, he said gladly.  So Marty the Card Dealer sold me a card with Ortiz in his Giants uniform and in the top of the 9th Russ signed it for me on the concourse.  It goes into my kitchen baseball shrine where so many of my other signed cards, balls and memorabilia are on display.

Without going into a sermon it is important to remember that many businesses and organizations are going through difficult times with many trying to do more with less.  In the military we are seeing our numbers go up a bit but with mission increases that stress our system.  These are like teams where there are gaps in the starting rotation and where guys and gals have to come in to relieve folks more often that should be the case.

Yes we do trust God, and patently the Deity Herself tells me that such is necessary especially for a miscreant Priest like me.  At the same time we need to have a strong bullpen in order to weather difficult situations. May we all have our Rivera’s, Papelbon’s, and guys like Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersly on our team with some good set up guys as well as some long and middle relievers.

Peace, Steve+

On a side note I was charged with an error by Barry the Scorekeeper when I lost track of my beer and kicked it over when it was still 2/3 full.  Since to waste good beer is a sin, I’m sure that Martin Luther believed this to be the case, I had to buy another and trust that the Deity would forgive me.

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Filed under Baseball, leadership, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy