Watching the league championships and World Series every year, I’ve been jealous of many things. Among them, a team that featured a hot-shot eighth-inning reliever who always made the big pitches. Last year’s Red Sox had Hideki Okajima. Those great Braves teams had Mike Remlinger. Those early Yankees teams had Mariano setting up John Wetteland, or Jeff Nelson setting up Rivera. The list goes on.
You’re watching a new name rise: Ryan Madson.
Charlie Manuel brought Madson in to defuse a seventh inning Dodgers rally. Though Nomar Garciaparra took his very first pitch into right field to put two on base, Madson settled in and induced a fly ball from Casey Blake. Though it wasn’t easy, Madson escaped the seventh.
He clearly likes it in the eighth, now.
Madson dialed it up in that inning, striking out Rafael Furcal and Russell Martin in a one-two-three frame. His fastball was clocked at 96 at its best, and he kept with it since nobody was getting wood on it. In fact, he made Martin look silly on one heater. Once Martin had caught up enough to foul off a fastball, then take one high, Madson went to his trusty changeup. See. You. Later.
A mea culpa to Madson: I dismissed him as the eighth-inning guy a while back, citing his poor eighth inning splits. Too often we look to numbers, but when it comes to relief pitching, you can toss numbers out the window. Relief pitching is about emotion control, raw stuff, and a little bit of luck. Madson might not be tailored for the rollercoaster of starting a ballgame, and he might not have it all the time, but right now, he’s making the best pitches of his life when he’s throwing the most important pitches of his life.
I watched that eighth inning at a local bar, and a couple biker guys who were glancing at the game periodically stopped dead when Madson was rifling. “God damn,” they remarked, as Madson brushed off Furcal and Martin. And the FOX cameras panned the controlled Madson amidst a sea of frantic white towels. I knew it then — we got ourselves a go-to setup guy.