04/29/2008 1:19 PM ET
Brian Fuentes: A return to closing
Rockies lefty is back at the end of NL champs' pen
Returning to the closer's role has helped me really appreciate just how tough this job is. I knew closing was hard when I first had the job, but I appreciate the role more than ever now that I've lost it and regained it.
My first time around as a closer will always be special to me. When I finally look back, I'll view my initial success as a closer as a career turning point that opened a lot of doors for me, but it will be more about the people that I met along the way. Because of that breakthrough, I've met people from all walks of life and from all over the world. Through the All-Star Games and the World Baseball Classic, I had the opportunity to play with guys I never would have gotten to meet before. You make a lot of good friends along the way.
When I was moved from the spot, I didn't want to allow the news to affect my career adversely. I learned early on in my career not to get bitter but to get better. I take that to heart.
It wasn't a situation last year where I was pitching "lights out" and the carpet was yanked out from underneath me. Rather, I was struggling, and the club made its decision. I might not have agreed with it, but you can't change things you don't control. So my only smart option was to put my nose to the grindstone and start pitching better, and I did just that.
My new job was an eighth-inning role, setting up Manny Corpas. Manny did a tremendous job for us last year, and it was such a special season for us. Just getting to pitch in the same game as him last year was a thrill for me.
With Manny struggling recently, I can relate. I can look back at last year when I had my rough stretch and see my shortcomings as a closer.
I also have the comfort of knowing that that rough time won't define my career. I know that the numbers will be reflected in the record books, but that doesn't define the person I am. I know I'm a quality Major League pitcher.
For Manny, he is very young, and he has a long career ahead of him. He may never close another game in his life, but, for an important part of a wonderful season, he was a closer, and he has to remember that he has the ability to do it again.
And bottom line -- pitching the eighth inning is a vital role too. Comparing pitching in the eighth inning to pitching in the ninth inning is different to different people. To me, pitching the eighth inning is just as hard.
In the eighth there are more variables. You can come into a game that's tied, or a game when your team is down a run or more, or into a game in which your team is leading.
In the closer's role, you are probably only coming into a tied ballgame if you are at home and otherwise only into a game you are leading. The closer is protected a bit more, but of course it has its moments too.
Brian Fuentes is a three-time National League All-Star who saved 81 ballgames from 2003 through July 2007, when he was removed from the role after blowing four consecutive save opportunities. Manny Corpas, then a rookie, took over and saved 19 games -- plus five more in the playoffs -- before switching roles with Fuentes again last week.