Before there were closers, there were firemen.  Of course there were -- and remain -- arsonists such as Tyler Walker and Jack Taschner, but that is why firemen are needed.

So what is the difference between a closer and a fireman?  The closer pitches the final inning, hopefully mopping up the affair in a positive manner.  The fireman comes in when things are dangerous, puts out the fire, and keeps the game safe until it is over.

Obviously the Giants chose to use Brian Wilson as the closer in Tim Lincecum's last two starts -- but since he was going to come in after arsonists Walker a week ago and Taschner last night, he didn't get the chance.

The answer, of course, is that Brian should have been used as a fireman, entering the game in the eighth inning when things could get hot, and finished out the game.  Would he have a league-leading 29 saves if he were used in this manner?  Probably not.  Would he have made a bigger contribution to Giants' wins? Almost certainly.

The save rule has distorted how a team's best relievers are used.  The object of the game has been perniciously distorted.  Back in the days of the fireman, the object was to win the game.  Now the object seems to be to get the closer as many saves as possible.

So the closer is used for the ninth inning -- even if the difference is three runs.  Teams score three runs or more only once in 16 innings.  Does it make more sense to bring in your best pitcher into a situation in which the average pitcher will still allow your team to win more than 15 out of 16 times?

Or would it make more sense to bring in that great reliever into a one-run game when the opponents have the bases loaded with no one out and their cleanup hitter at the plate?  Even if the game is an inning that is earlier than the ninth?

Should a team's best reliever be brought in only in one-inning save situations and in some games just to keep him from getting rusty since there haven't been any save situations?  Or would it be better to bring him in earlier in a game, when the situation is the most dangerous but when he might have to pitch more than an inning to earn the save?

In other words, would it be better to use a combination of arsonists and a closer to hope to win a game -- or would it be better to use a fireman to put the fire out, or possibly even preventing the fire from developing, say to begin the eighth inning of a one-run game?

As Yogi the Berra always says, only you can prevent baseball fires.

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