Friday, August 13, 2010

When a Starter is Also a Stopper

I enjoy it when a baseball terms means two very different things. Take "hook," for instance. On one hand, it's a pitcher's curveball. ("Jon Lester's got his good 'hook' today.")

On the other hand, it's what a manager does to his pitcher when he doesn't have a very good hook on the day. ("Looks like Joe Girardi's giving Burnett the 'hook' here in the fourth...")

Then there's "stopper." The most common baseball usage is, a starting pitcher--typically an ace--who can be counted on to stop a losing streak. Johan Santana comes to mind. With closer K-Rod simmering in a jail cell somewhere in Queens, Santana told skipper Jerry Manuel he could go 10, if needed, before yesterday's game. He only needed 9 in blanking the Rockies. (Don't Mess With the Johan! crowed the Mets blogs.)

Almost exactly a year ago, the NY Daily News saluted Santana for being a stopper.

Johan Santana plays sweep stopper with arm, bat as Mets beat Padres, read the headline.

Any great starter has been described as a stopper: Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, CC Sabathia, etc.

But stopper can also be a synonym for closer--not the ace starter, but the blue-chip finisher.

Of course, outside of baseball, a stopper is the thing that keeps the water in your bathtub. There is also the gobstopper, which would probably work as a tub stopper should yours be out of commission.

Back to baseball. A recent New York Times Magazine cover story on Mariano Rivera, "The King of the Closers," got into the short history of the closer role. James Traub wrote:

The great Yankees teams of the ’70s relied on one such fabled stopper, Rich Gossage, better known as Goose.

Traub's closer-as-stopper usage is less common than starter-as stopper. (Starter as stopper...what a concept!) I'll chalk it up to Traub not being a baseball guy. He's been with the Times Magazine for eons and has written books on everything from India to Times Square to Kofi Annan. Smart guy, indeed. Baseball guy? Not so sure.

But get this: says "stopper" is, in fact, a baseball closer.

Check out the third definition:

1.A device, such as a cork or plug, that is inserted to close an opening.
2.One that causes something to stop: a conversation stopper.
3.Baseball. A relief pitcher, especially one called upon to protect a lead.

So if you're going by the book--or at least stopper is a reliever.

But if you're going by the baseball book, a stopper is a starter.

[image: NY Daily News]

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