Evolv­ing role of the pitcher

The Beacon Herald - - SPORTS - SCOTT STINSON

It was ex­actly two years ago that John Gib­bons walked to the mound in Ar­ling­ton, in the fifth in­ning of Game 4 of the ALDS, and con­fused the hell out of ev­ery­one.

Toronto had thumped Texas starter Derek Hol­land but good, and R.A. Dickey’s knuck­le­ball was danc­ing in the Texas heat and the Blue Jays had a six-run lead. Gib­bons pulled Dickey any­way and brought in David Price. This set off all sorts of won­der­ing about whether the Toronto man­ager was afraid of us­ing Price in Game 5, whether he had in­sulted Dickey, whether he had in­sulted Price, whether he had ba­si­cally lost his mind. Tak­ing out an ef­fec­tive starter so early was just Not Done.

Gib­bons would say af­ter­ward that the ex­pla­na­tion was per­fectly sim­ple: he was try­ing to win.

Two play­off sea­sons later, the early hook has be­come stan­dard prac­tice. Cleve­land man­ager Terry Fran­cona pulled Corey Klu­ber in the fourth in­ning of Game 5 on Wed­nes­day night, go­ing to his now-fa­mil­iar rou­tine of de­ploy­ing re­liever of doom An­drew Miller out of the bullpen as early as he deems nec­es­sary. Miller struck out five of eight bat­ters and gave Cleve­land a chance for a come­back that they couldn’t quite pull off. And while Fran­cona is be­ing sec­ond-guessed for his later de­ci­sion to pitch to Brett Gard­ner in­stead of the slump­ing Aaron Judge — Gard­ner hit the back-break­ing two-run sin­gle that all but salted the game away for New York in the ninth — no one is fussed by the move to pull Klu­ber, the likely AL Cy Young win­ner this year.

How many sea­sons ago would such a de­ci­sion have been con­sid­ered lu­nacy? Three? Four? Start­ing pitch­ers, es­pe­cially those with a re­sume as impressive as Klu­ber’s, were to re­main in the game as long as pos­si­ble, and hard-throw­ing re­liev­ers were to be stashed in the bullpen un­til the late in­nings. But that at­ti­tude has changed with alarm­ing speed.

In 2014, Kansas City lost a se­v­engame World Se­ries in which their bullpen pitched more than half the to­tal in­nings. Cleve­land did the same thing in last year’s World Se­ries, pulling starters at the very first sign of trou­ble, and Chicago man­ager Joe Mad­don re­sponded by go­ing early — twice! — to his bullpen in that epic Game 7.

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