Closing Time: A fixture in Flushing?

It's Labor Day on the calendar, but if they're playing on the sandlots, we're here to talk about it. Let's do a quick holiday lap and see what's up, starting in the ninth inning and working backward.

What do we make of Luis Ayala, anyway? We saw a nice, clean save from him Monday at Milwaukee, a solid bounce-back after Friday's messy conversion at Florida. He's now got four saves and a win since joining the Mets a couple of weeks ago, and as any save-chaser knows, opportunity is the key in this pursuit. At the end of the day it comes down to how badly you need the stat he provides - if you're desperate for it, you ignore the red ink on the stat profile. If you're not in a saves-bind, the big picture should steer you away. (Billy Wagner might be ready for a rehab assignment later this week, but there's nothing guaranteed with him, as you know.)

I made a lot of Brandon Lyon's struggles in August, but here's the catch - none of his four nightmare appearances in that span came in a save situation, and he didn't lose any games in the month, either. So maybe the (retractable) roof isn't caving in on the Arizona closer, I guess. Lyon recorded his 26th save of the year Monday against the Cardinals, pitching around a couple of hits in the ninth. His 4.76 ERA and mediocre peripherals don't inspire much confidence, but saves are saves and Jon Rauch pretty much collapsed over the last three weeks.

Matt Lindstrom picked up his second victory in three days, working a scoreless ninth against Atlanta (dodging two hits). Far from a dominant effort (no strikeouts either), but the two winning efforts essentially stamp him the director of the Florida committee while Kevin Gregg rehabs, and maybe Lindstrom will have a 2008 shelf life even past that.

Randy Johnson ran a Rob Deer special in his Monday turn, allowing four homers and collecting eight strikeouts over his 3.2 innings. Let's shake this off and start him with confidence Sunday at Los Angeles; he's been too good in the second half.

Felipe Lopez quietly has a nine-game hitting streak for the Cardinals, including three hits and a homer Monday. He's also picked up eligibility in the outfield, to go along with second base and shortstop. In the mixed leagues I run in, this at least makes Lopez a viable consideration when you're looking to fill short lineups on a Monday or Thursday.

Roy Oswalt kept the strikes and ground-balls coming Monday at Chicago, and that led to one of those dominant-looking lines from an outing that wasn't really dominant (8.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K). He's collected seven wins in his last 10 turns, with a bunch of performances like this one. Jose Valverde, who has been electric lately, got the last two outs for save No. 38.

Speed Round: Better mention that Adrian Beltre and Stephen Drew both hit for the cycle, I don't want a revolt . . . Cliff Lee, clear off some mantle space (20th win, five-hit shutout over Chicago). One-season fluke, or Tom Glavine 2.0? Discuss . . . Jed Lowrie continues to impress, with a useful 2-1-1-1 line and three walks . . . In my attempt to promote every member of the Washington Nationals at some point, I'll mention that Ryan Zimmerman has 12 hits and two homers over his last seven starts. A small sample, but this is the guy we were looking for in April. The pesky Nats have 49 runs over their seven-game winning streak . . . Make it four snappy turns in a row for Jorge De La Rosa, albeit Monday's gem was the first assignment in Colorado (the other three came in pitcher-friendly yards) . . . Don't forget the handshakes for Jonathan Broxton (11; pounded the strike zone from the opening toss) and Jonathan Papelbon (35; hasn't allowed an earned run since mid-July).

Adam Jones (foot) returned in style to the lineup Monday, hitting a ball over Fenway's Green Monster in his first at-bat. He finished the night 1-for-4, and keep in mind he was on a bit of a tear before the injury hit. I know I'm not the only roto player hoping we can sneak out a value play on Jones next spring, but his closing act will have a lot to do with where the price lands.

Injury Lap: Ben Sheets left Monday's start after five innings with a sore left groin. Oh wait, don't worry, it's just "very, very slight . . . tightness." Got it . . . Jody Gerut (finger) took some cage swings Monday but nonetheless missed his fourth straight game . . . Andruw Jones was activated off the DL, but let's hope the Dodgers have the good sense not to play him (Andre Ethier doesn't deserve a trip to the bench). Ethier had a hit and a run, two walks and a steal Monday, for what it's worth . . . Joba Chamberlain (rotator cuff) heads back to the New York bullpen Tuesday, where he'll stick the rest of the season. He's one of the few non-save relievers that you'll want in a common mixed league, but don't be crazy with initial expectations . . . Jarrod Saltalamacchia left Monday's game with a sore right elbow and will have an MRI Tuesday.

Chris Young's return to the mound was nothing to write home about, as we expected. (5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 3 K). "I was a little bit rusty," admitted Young, returning from a strained forearm. He'll go this weekend at Milwaukee.

Some rants just have to see the light of day, even if they're barely related to our proceedings here, and this is one of those times. If you're not in the mood for a rant, consider the column finished and I'll catch up to you tomorrow night.

Retired Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr threw out the first pitch before the Yankees and Tigers got underway at Comerica Park Monday. You might remember Carr; he's the genius who decided to platoon Tom Brady with Drew Henson back in the late 90s. Carr's specialty over the last few years in Ann Arbor was an upset loss in September, and with that, it's fitting that the Tigers lost Monday even with ace Justin Verlander on the hill. (I suppose I shouldn't be so bitter about Carr; while the Wolverine fan in me was constantly let down this decade by his underachieving teams, the Patriot fan in me never would have seen Brady in New England - via pick No. 199 - had Carr given him the stage completely. Some tradeoffs are worth making.)

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