Bullpens are so specialized these days.
You got your closers, set-up guys, seventh-inning guys, and sixth-inning guys for when Clemens pitches. Oh, you know it’s true.
You also have LOOGYs, which, of course, stands for Lefty One-Out Guys.
Then you got me, your basic POLR. That’s Pitcher of Last Resort.
At least that’s the role I play on my church’s co-ed softball team. I happily take my place in the outfield, since we have two really good pitchers and a guy who does a fine job filling in.
Our team is named Know Mercy. A teammate asked if I knew how we got the moniker. I assumed because it was a church team, there’s that whole forgiveness thing.
“Oh yeah, that, too,” the right fielder replied. “But we got mercied in every single game during our first season.”
We’re better now, but it was still exciting to play for the division title on Wednesday. Except that Bo, our pitcher-coach, was out of state. And Bill, our pitcher who tossed a shutout in an earlier playoff game, was unavailable. And Kevin, who fills in when he’s not kicking butt at first base, also could not be there.
That means the responsibility falls to the POLR.
Man, I was nervous. I didn’t have time to pick out an entrance song, because the last thing I wanted to do was get Mike & the Mad Dog all riled up.
But I bravely took the bump. It was an adventure. Our other guys can place the ball. I try to get it to drop in somewhere between home plate and the back stop, hoping that the batter will swing at everything.
And it was working pretty well, except for some minor mishaps. I had forgotten that as a pitcher you just feel responsible for everything. There was a pop fly somewhere near third. Our third-basewoman – she’s very good -- called it, and this demon-like voice came out of me and called her off, making the catch.
Now, in co-ed ball, there’s only one thing worse than a guy who poaches on a female player. And that’s the guy who poaches then drops the ball. If that happens, you just walk off the field, head right to your car and go home to wallow in your shame.
Luckily, I held on to it, but I was pretty embarrassed – especially when I got back to the dugout and someone said, “Dude, you know that you were practically standing on third when you caught that, right?” Oops.
And in the next inning, I ended up making all three outs, including tagging a guy at the plate who decided to test our right-fielder’s gun.
This led to more ribbing. Every time someone caught a fly – like in deep left – people would say, “Hey, Dave, thanks for not calling him off.”
You can make such jokes when you’re winning, and we went to the bottom of the seventh inning with a 9-2 lead.
I went out there thinking: “As long as I don’t go Looper on us, the plaque and T-shirts are ours!”
Then our defense – tight all game – started to have issues. And I discovered that as a pitcher, you take these things personally. Which is entirely unreasonable.
You can’t say anything, of course. Especially when you’re just a POLR and you’ve made an error or two of your own during the season.
After the first error, you say: “Tough play, tough play.”
But inside, you’re thinking: “Wasn’t that tough.”
After the second error, you say: “OK, OK, hang in there.”
But inside, you’re thinking: “That sucked.” And you start feeling guilty for even thinking such things.
And after the third error, which allows a run to score, you say: “OK, we’ll get the next one.”
And inside, you’ve lost all control, thinking: “What the heck! That leather thing on your hand is a glove. A stinking cow gave her life so you could use her hide to catch a softball. And now, Bessie is dying in vain. A senseless bovine death.”
Then up stepped their biggest hitter, who took my second pitch and promptly deposited it beyond the center-field fence.
It then struck me. I was going Wagner v. Yankees. The score was now 9-6 with no outs. Panic was setting in.
I had to step off the mound. All I could see were Chipper Jones, Brian Jordan, Terry Pendleton, Mike Scioscia, and Derek Bleeping Jeter all grabbing bats. And that Marlin kid from Tuesday who hit the two-run jack off Wagner and threw his helmet – he was there, too.
Taking a deep breath, I realized we had to cast out those demons. I took off my Mets cap, walked around behind the mound, wiped the ball on my orange jersey and summoned my inner-Seaver.
A soft liner to third.
A grounder to short.
Then a pop-up to me, with no one around to poach from. I dropped to my knees, squeezed my glove and promised never to boo a closer again.
We got our division champs plaque, cool T-shirts and the coach handed me the game ball.
And next season, I’ll happily head right back to the outfield and try to make sure some cow died a worthy death. Until they call on the POLR!