The Closer at the End

by Tom Scocca

A screenshot from a baseball broadcast: Cavan Biggio of the Toronto Blue Jays, wearing an all-black uniform with blue trim and white shoes, runs down the third-base line in full stride, moving from right to left in the image. To the right of him, slightly out of focus in the foreground, is Craig Kimbrel in the gray road uniform of the Baltimore Orioles, with "Baltimore" in orange across the chest and the number 46, with a blond beard, walking with his hands on his hips. The score box at upper left shows a 2 to 2 score with runners on first and third and one out in the bottom of the ninth, below that it says KIMBREL 10 PITCHES.

Craig Kimbrel ruined the ballgame for the Baltimore Orioles the other night. I mostly don't get mad at baseball players anymore when they fail; I know, with the weary empathy of middle age, that none of them are trying to be bad, that a pitcher who can't throw the ball into the strike zone, or who serves up a feeble pitch to be clobbered, is generally not showing some weakness of character but is simply trying to do a rarefied and almost impossible thing and can't quite do it. 

Last year, the Orioles picked up a pitcher named Shintaro Fujinami, who on some days would burn laser-precise holes in the corners of the zone at 102 mph and on others would pitch like a person in a nightmare dropped naked onto the pitching mound, missing the target by two, three, four feet, flinging the ball to the backstop, hitting batters. I felt a real fondness for Fujinami even at his most destructive, because he clearly didn't know any more than the fans did where that brilliant, unhittable version of himself had gone, and who wouldn't want to hope that that other, better self might come back?

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