The eternal disclaimer: My playing days and my shaving days intersected only briefly. So when I write something like "I believe the idea of a `closer's mentality' is a myth", take it with the grain of salt that the closest I've come to a major league clubhouse was on photo day in 1985. But I've always been skeptical of the idea there exists mystical closer-fu that's gained from pulling some sword from a stone.
I've decided there's qualification needed for this idea, though. It is entirely plausible, if not likely, there are pitchers who lack the mental toughness to close baseball games in the major leagues. I can concede that. Maybe there are a few, or maybe there are a whole bunch. We'll just never be able to spot them. The difference between Closer X and Closer Y could be that Closer Y doesn't have the "closer's mentality". But it might be that Closer X has allowed four home runs and eight balls fouled straight back to the screen, while Closer Y has allowed 12 home runs. How can you separate mental failings from blind luck over just 70 innings? It seems both illogical and unfair to start dragging perceived character flaws into the ring when the sample size is so minute. Another difference would be that Closer X would probably have a mask and maybe fight crime when he wasn't playing baseball, because that's just a super cool name.
But this doesn't really apply to Armando Benitez, because that dude just stinks. While watching some of the games after coming back from vacation, I was starting to think about a pro-Armando column. As in, the guy blew eleventy-five saves in a row, he knows his own family probably wouldn't trust him to save a seat in a crowded movie theater, yet he was still able to crank out a 1-2-3 inning against San Diego. He never became likable, but you could almost respect the focus he had after such a rough stretch.
A closer look at even his successful outings are discouraging, though. I can't remember watching a pitcher hang so many pitches. Every other breaking ball seems to die about thirty feet from the plate. For every vintage splitter, there's a tetherball slowly curling up the middle of the zone. The fastball is average. The command is seriously lacking. In every appearance, someone from the opposing team will get a fat pitch to hit. Rod Beck in the twilight of his career was like that. Of course, Beck's elbow was just a fleshy pouch filled with wet circus peanuts at that point, so the comparison isn't fair. If a team doesn't score against Benitez, it's because of their own failings. I've never felt that way about a closer before, at least not to extent that I do with Mando.
I really have been fair with Benitez, and refused to pile on with anything more than the occasional cheeky attempt at visual humor. But last night was the final straw. A four-run lead, three outs, and he couldn't do it. The hits weren't all solid, but he mixed a pointless walk in for good measure. I don't know if this is a case of Benitez not fooling anyone, or a case of Benitez lacking the moon rocks to close a big league ballgame these days. I don't really care, either. The guy has to go. I've supported him with my silence long enough. Booo. Booooooo. Boooooooooo. I give up, and while I don't think I'm the only one who held out this long, it isn't hard to admit that I was wrong.
Which brings us to a comment starter: How does he go? Could the Giants expect anything back if they ate his contract? Is the only way out to just release him?
Edit: All bets are off if he can get his fastball up to 97, as he did today. Where in the heck has that fastball been?