Generally I like trolling for saves, the uncertainty of the ninth inning, the rush of a rally that turns into a blown save, walk-off victories and the like. Beating everyone to the punch on the next stealth closer, what fun. Bullpens on a budget, that's how I roll. Hey, I could write a nightly blog on this very topic.
But I can't shake the feeling that 2009 might be a tricky year to get a handle on. And maybe springing for Jonathan Papelbon wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Mind you, I'm not going to throw my Rotisserie Manifesto in the garbage after a few crazy days, but Friday's slate further supported the feeling that things might be hazier this season. We've got a handful of ninth-inning moments and meltdowns to sort through, so let's roll the tape.
• Cubs: Kevin Gregg couldn't get ahead of batters in Milwaukee (he never got the feel of his curveball), and the Brewers did plenty of damage on fastballs later in the count. The result was a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth that lifted the Brew Crew to a win in its home opener. Alfonso Soriano didn't help Chicago's cause during the inning, doing his best Lonnie Smith imitation as he misplayed Rickie Weeks's double to left. Carlos Marmol worked in the seventh inning in this one, retiring two of the three men he faced.
• Marlins: Velocity wasn't a problem for Matt Lindstrom in the ninth against the Mets, but it was pretty clear he had no idea where every pitch was going. The Mets waited him out and got good wood on a few of his fastballs, leading to three hits, one run and a tie game. Lindstrom came out smelling like a rose when the Marlins won the game in the bottom of the inning, but this is the second outing in a row where he's been sloppy. Leo Nunez got five outs in front of Lindstrom and looked excellent, a nice rally after his Tuesday stinker.
• Cardinals: Jason Motte got another chance to make good in the ninth with a two-run lead, but Tony La Russa kept him on a short leash and the kid was pulled after allowing two singles to his first three batters. Kyle McClellan, one of the universally ignored options in the Cardinals bullpen, put the fire out, whiffing Kaz Matsui and getting Hunter Pence to ground out (La Russa called McClellan's stuff "nasty"). Who gets the next save in St. Louis, Todd Worrell? It's a full-blown committee, friends.
• Angels: Mike Scioscia could have handed a three-run lead to Brian Fuentes in the ninth, but instead the LA skipper let Scot Shields continue on and record a four-out save against the Red Sox. I don't know of anything being specifically wrong with Fuentes (though he was nicked up all spring, as you know), but we'll keep looking all the same.
• Braves: Mike Gonzalez isn't an easy watch, from his pre-pitch routine to his erratic command to the jams he seems to get himself into with regularity. Two hits and a walk loaded the bases quickly for the Nationals Friday, and eventually Lastings Milledge tied the game with an infield hit. If you're hedging against Gonzalez down the road, consider that Rafael Soriano has looked sharp over two outings but Peter Moylan is a complete mess right now.
• Mariners: David Aardsma breezed through six easy outs in Oakland (25 pitches in all), a welcome sight as Brandon Morrow was getting a scheduled day off (he pitched or warmed up in each of the four prior games). Nothing too much to worry about here.
• Orioles: George Sherrill was working with a two-run lead, so it wasn't a big deal when Dioner Navarro clubbed a one-out homer. Sherrill fanned the other three men he faced en route to his second save.
• Yankees: Leave it to Mariano Rivera to have a routine save on such a crazy night, stranding one baserunner and picking up two strikeouts at Kansas City. Money in the bank.
Patience may be a fantasy virtue, but not really at the closer spot – we know from past experience that managers won't wait long to make a change. We'll get through it together, amigos, the comment thread is our therapy.
Let's get out of the bullpen and over to the rest of the ballpark, checking Friday happenings.
• I wanted no part of Travis Hafner all during March, but I have to admit he's had an encouraging first week. The trend continued Friday with a homer, double and walk, and it looks like Eric Wedge will let him hit cleanup until Hafner proves he doesn't belong there. There was plenty of offense on the other side, as Adam Lind (5-2-3-4, homer) and the Toronto Crunch Bunch put up 13 runs and 17 hits of their own.
• I swear that I don't have any sort of anti-Philadelphia bias, I just don't understand a lot of the decisions that come from that organization and dugout. Take Cole Hamels, returning off a sore elbow – why would you want him making his season debut in Coors Field, during a day game of all things? The Rockies didn't mind, hammering Hamels for 11 hits and seven runs over 3.2 innings. Dexter Fowler got his second consecutive start and went 2-for-4 with a stolen base.
• Hold the phone on Mark Teahen's second base eligibility, it might take a while. Jose Guillen has a Grade 2 groin tear and went on the 15-day disabled list Friday, and as a result Teahen shifted to right field for the ballgame against the Yanks. None of the Royals brought their bats to the park, managing just three hits and one run in seven innings against Andy Pettitte. Mike Aviles, back in the second slot for the home opener, had one of the knocks.
• If loving Emilio Bonifacio (3-for-5, three runs) is wrong, I don't want to be right. He terrorized the Mets with his speed all night, picking up a couple of infield hits, and he wound up scoring the winning run in the ninth on Jorge Cantu's sharp single to left. Maybe Bonifacio will turn into Chone Figgins 2.0 after all, and he'll have his third-base eligibility after Saturday's game.
• Another night on the pine for Justin Upton, as the Snakes decided to use Eric Byrnes for the third time in four games. Jon Garland was surprisingly effective in his Arizona debut (7 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 2 K), but I have no faith this will be a recurring story. James McDonald struggled with his command on the other side (2.1 IP, 2 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 2 K).
Speed Round: Yeah, Evan Longoria (two homers) and Miguel Cabrera (homer, six RBIs) are awesome, you don't need me to tell you that. … Daniel Murphy (three hits) is becoming one of my favorite players, though his third knock was an absolute gift, a Hanley Ramirez botch that was graciously scored a hit. … Rain delayed the ballgames in Atlanta and San Diego (it's an urban myth), and the match in Cincinnati never got off the ground. Derek Lowe owners hate to lose the remainder of his start against the Nats, but at least you can keep the six punchouts he rolled up over three innings. … The Nats probably put out their best lineup Friday night, with Elijah Dukes (3-for-6) in the outfield and Austin Kearns on the bench. It didn't get Washington a victory, but there's nothing wrong with five runs and 14 hits. … When Rich Harden has his good stuff, you wonder how anyone ever gets a hit off him. Somehow the Brewers managed three knocks and two runs (one unearned) in Harden's six innings; the Chicago righty also piled up 10 strikeouts. … The Twins let Delmon Young start a game (1-for-4), but they never let him finish; Carlos Gomez pinch-ran for him in the seventh and finished out the game. I'd pick up Alexi Casilla (three hits, two runs, batting second) while you still can. … Trendy Endy Chavez put up a 5-0-3-2 line in Oakland, hiking his average up to .409. If you can name the five pitchers for the Mariners tonight, you must be the three-time champion of your AL West-only league. … Hiroki Kuroda landed on the 15-day DL Friday with a surprise oblique injury; the uninteresting Eric Stults will start in his place Saturday.