I’m like most Marlins fans, if you discount the 800-pound frame, the body hair and the occasional urge to climb a skyscraper while fondling a small (but adult) blonde chick.
I was thrilled, as were many of us, when the Marlins signed Heath Bell because it meant an end to the LeoCoaster and the predictable trauma of watching ninth-inning leads jeopardized by the performance of the very person whose job it was to shut down the other team’s offense. And boy, were we wrong!
Let’s start by acknowledging the obvious: Heath Bell did not singlehandedly lose the 13-12 heartbreaker to the Brewers on July 3. Ozzie Guillen is right about that.
Fine. He still blew it. Brother has one job: protect the lead in the final inning of the game. And he has been dreadful at it. Now, I’m not one of those people who studies statistics and can quote you WHIPs and CHAINs on every pitcher. I don’t know what WHIPs are, to this day, and I’m pretty sure I made up CHAINs, although someone should come up with a meaning for the acronym.
Here’s a statistic I know: Heath Bell threw a fastball down the middle of the plate at a guy who eats fastballs thrown down the middle of the plate for breakfast. Twice. In a row. The first time he got lucky: it was in for a strike. The second time, he got what he deserved: Ignominy. Look it up.
The team, for all its faults during that game, did right by Heath Bell. They gave him a lead to protect. Whether it was 12-11 or 1-0, it was a lead. Bell was brought to Miami precisely to protect the lead in the final inning in close games. That’s his job description. And he blew the lead. Not the game. Lots of people blew the game. But Heath Bell blew the lead and the save. And from that blunder, the team could not recover because it was over.
Now, if this were an anomaly, I could shrug it off as a fan. But it’s not. The guy’s got a 6.19 ERA (after a redeeming performance on July 4 that still saw a runner in scoring position before the final out was recorded). That is the highest of his career. Put this in perspective: Heath Bell is having the WORST season of his career. His ERA last year was 2.44. That’s not bad. He was an All Star. Even a modest increase in his ERA would be acceptable compared to what we’ve gotten.
Let’s compare it to Leo Nunez (the Liar Currently Known As Juan Carlos Oviedo), whose ERA last season was 4.06. Fans (myself included) raked him over the coals for it, and rightly so. His job was to close games, and he was failing at his job.
After Tuesday’s letdown, professional sports reporters and columnists, for some reason I cannot fathom, started spouting the irrelevant statistic of the day: Heath Bell had successfully converted his last 14 save opportunities. It’s an impressive statistic (a.k.a. “fact”) that is only accurate because it ignores other, larger facts. Namely, Heath Bell blew a four-run lead on June 26 against the Cardinals. It’s only a technicality that this does not count as a blown save.
It’s not a blown save because a four-run lead is not considered a save opportunity for a relief pitcher/closer. Get it? Let me make it clearer: if he had blown a two-run lead, it would have been a blown save. But it was a four-run lead, so it didn’t count.
A little more clarity: What Heath Bell did in that Cardinals game was WORSE than a blown save.
So spare us the 14-in-a-row statistic. It’s meaningless. It’s like reminding people that Jeffrey Dahmer met thousands and thousands of people that he did not eat. Unfair? OK, here’s something more fair: it’s like praising Gaby Sanchez’ performance in the July 4 game but forgetting that it LIFTED his batting average to .190. I love Gaby Sanchez. I’m gonna miss him. But we need better than a .190 batting average from a first baseman who just last year was an All Star.
And we need more reliability from a closer who also was an All Star last year.
The day after his blown save, Heath Bell got back on the mound and shut me up. Well-deserved kudos, Ice Cream Man. Keep it up. Please. Couldja? Thanks.