Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley during his Oakland A’s pitching days (Baseball Wikipedia file photo)
The Making of a Closer: A’s Great History with Closers
That’s Amaury Sports and Commentary
By Amaury Pi-González
OAKLAND–On Cinco de Mayo 2021 the Oakland Athletics were on their way to their 20th win and maybe extending their 2-game lead over the surprising Seattle Mariners in second place. With a 3 -2 lead into the eight-inning manager Bob Melvin called for Lou Trivino in relief.
Trivino was a perfect five for five in saves opportunities, and the A’s were the only team in baseball this early season with seven saves in seven opportunities and no blown saves. Trivino gave up fve earned runs, the A’s lost their first game this year to the Toronto Blue Jays 9-4 and they had their first blown save of the season.
The closing position is a relatively new position in baseball, from the 1990’s. The A’s signed Trevor Rosenthal during the off season to take over as closer for the team after they lost the most coveted free-agent closer, Liam Hendricks who was signed by the Chicago White Sox. Rosenthal is out after surgery and is not expected to be back until maybe August at the earliest.
Manager Bob Melvin has successfully used Lou Trivino to take over the 9th inning, although this May 5, used him in the eight, nothing wrong with that. The other closer has been lefty Jake Diekman who himself is 3 for 3 in closing situations. So with those two, the Athletics so far this year has handled the last part of the game with much success.
The Oakland Athletics have a great history with closers. Two of their closers are in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, a claim that most teams cannot make. Rollie Fingers, who used to throw, will relieve for an average of three innings and then later with Dennis Ecksersley, who began the general practice of a closer to enter the game to pitch the ninth inning when the team was ahead by three-runs or fewer. Fingers ended his career with 314 games saved and 114 wins usually throwing more than one inning, “He is the master” said fellow reliever Dan Quisenberry. Eckersley saved 390 games.
I once asked Eck what keeps him with that edge in the ninth-inning, and he told me “the fear of failure is what drives me”. He was a competitor like all these guys who made a career in the last inning of the game and are credited with a game saved. I am not one that likes to give players nicknames, but I did called Eck “La Cuchilla” trans: “The Knife”, he was a surgeon with that slider and he got most hitters out. There was one exception, Tigers second-baseman Lou Whitaker he enjoyed great success over Eckerseley.
Dennis Eckersley had his great success as he came to Oakland in 1987 with an extensive resume he was a starter. He was a 20 game winner with Cleveland in 1978 and with other reams compiled a record of 197-171, starting 361 games, completed 100 games in 1,071 games he pitched, 2,401 strike outs and a 3.50 ERA. I remember when Eck came to Oakland; he never envisioned being a closer in his life, yet under the great system of Manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan. He became one of the greatest closers.
Necessity is the mother of invention, when the need for something becomes imperative; you are forced to find ways of getting the results you want, maybe even achieving it. When kids start playing baseball, from T-Ball all the way up to High School their dreams are of pitching, playing the infield, maybe the outfield, some kids have the calling for catching, but you will never see a kid saying: “when I make it, I want to be a closer.”
This is because such position in the game is something that evolves and developes by many circumstances. It is only early May and the closing situation still developing with the Athletics. We are witnessing maybe the making of another closer inside the Oakland Athletics organization with Lee Trivino, or maybe not. Nobody really knows.
The King of Closers? Panamanian-born Mariano Rivera, “Mo”, in 2019 was the first player unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame, his sensational career with the New York Yankees spanned for 19 years and a total of 652 saves. Perhaps the next Mariano has not been born yet.
Stay well and stay tuned.
Amaury Pi Gonzalez is the lead play by play announcer for Oakland A’s Spanish flagship station KIQI 1010 LaGrande San Francisco and does Sports and Commentary at http://www.sportsradioservice.com