Blessed relief

The concept of the relief pitcher is as old as baseball itself. The originals having been introduced sometime in the early '80s; that would be the 1880s, old Sport.

For a couple generations they were just washed up starters used to mop-up one-sided games. The notion that you should call upon a young, fresh arm to bail out your mighty ace at the end of a tight or vital game was considered anathema.

Nowadays, relievers are baseball's hottest commodities. No team features fewer than six and better teams may have eight, all varying in the look, stuff and purpose they present. There are relievers for all occasions, all situations. They parade through game after game, often asked to throw just a dozen pitches, sometimes merely three or four. But they must be on call at least every other day, ready to fire every pitch as if it were their last and, sometimes, it is.

Relief pitchers have profoundly changed baseball and it's come to the point where they dominate it, for better or worse. A fair number of we who merely stand by and watch might vote the latter.

It was John J. McGraw, fierce and legendary skipper of the pre-war New York Giants' fire wagon (that would be WWI, old Sport) who refined the role.

McGraw had a pitching staff to die for; anchored by the incomparable Christy Mathewson and his colorful sidekick, Rube Marquard, with their gilded services being nicely supplemented by Red Ames, Jeff Tesreau, and Hook Wiltse. Yet, McGraw still found a role for a crafty spot-pitcher named Doc Crandall. In a run (1908-1913) that included three championships, Doc got to save a couple of dozen games making him the first de facto "closer" although nobody used that term; certainly not in the presence of Matty or Rube.

A decade later Fred "Firpo" Marberry further defined the role. Big, blazing and durable, Marberry alternated between starting and relieving duties averaging over a decade more than 50 appearances a year for the ancient Washington Senators and excelling as they interrupted the Yanks' Roaring Twenties Reign of Terror by copping consecutive pennants in 1924 and '25. In 1926, Marberry had 22 saves in 64 appearances; unprecedented. As a true pathfinder, old Firpo belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Thus the role was secured. All subsequent champs had obligatory bullpen aces assigned to "put out the fire." Waite Hoyt and Eddie Rommel did it for Connie Mack's last great Depression-era A's dynasty. Succeeding Yankee titlists raised it to an art form with Wilcy Moore begetting Johnny Murphy who begat Joe Page who begat Johnny Sain who begat Ryne Duren, etc. On the Dodgers, there was first Hugh Casey then Joe Black. On the Giants, Marv Grissom and Hoyt Wilhelm. On the Indians, Mossi and Narleski. On the Phillies, Jim Konstanty became the NL's MVP in 1950 and another year Elroy Face won 18 games for the Pirates; all in relief.

Even crummy teams had superb firemen. When fully focused and cold sober who was better than Ellie Kinder of the then wayward Red Sox? For a too brief but truly spectacular three-year blitz no one was ever either better or more dramatic than Dick Radatz. Even with Dick Stuart, Eddie Bressoud, and Felix Mantilla behind him, ''the Monster'' was sublime. The increasingly distinguished calling made another quantum leap in the seventies thanks to Rollie Fingers, Sparky Lyle, Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage, Soup Campbell, Dan Quisenberry, among others; many others.

At the start of the '80s Pat Corrales, crusty manager of the Phils, declared, "The Game's becoming reliever-oriented." Whereupon Ralph Houk, then the boss of the Red Sox, added: "I'd take a great reliever over a 20-game winner any time."

To traditionalists, that was heresy. Stalwart "stoppers" who anchored rotations, never begged out, and pledged to finish what they started come hell or high water had always been the coin of the realm. Unquestionably it was nice to have a Dennis Eckersley lurking in the pen for insurance, but how could a true believer and certified throw-back like Major Houk prefer even gems like an Eck to genuine horses like Roberts, Spahn or Feller, Gibson, Seaver or Morris? How can a guy gifted at giving a couple quality innings a week be more desirable than one guaranteed to give 330 innings over the length of a long, grueling season.

Then along came Mariano Rivera of the Yankees -- who with a comparably elegant bearing would become the Christy Mathewson of the relievers -- and for many, Rivera rather ended the argument.

In the new millennium, we've seen the role steadily expand to a degree of influence that would have seemed impossible only a decade ago and now, in 2012, we have another "quantum leap," if you will, on our hands. Might one day a manager, armed with a computer printout of his opponent's particular moods and circumstances, use his starter only the first inning then turn to his bullpen corps for the next eight, mixing and matching his way through the opponent's lineup as if he were playing not baseball but chess? It would come as no surprise to this observer.

The extent to which relievers are being used this season is astounding. Five a game -- even in very low scoring games -- is becoming familiar and using six is hardly unusual. I surveyed the full week of games beginning on Mother's Day scouring every box-score I could find. Here are the results.

In 83 games, 496 relief pitchers were used. That's an average of six per game (three each team) but in roughly half these games one of the teams used at least four relievers. Three times teams used seven relievers, one in extra innings. Just 12 starters pitched seven full innings with only five of them (Verlander, Beachy, Lester, Lowe, and Morrow) pitching complete games.

In 1901, starters completed 86.4 percent of their games, in 1941, 46.2 percent, in 1981, 18.3 percent, and in this particular week in May of 2012 starting pitchers completed 6 percent of their games. I would not insist my randomly selected single week is a definitive sample but I would bet it's pretty darn close.

However, it's not so much the decline of the complete game that's arresting for that's long been a given. What's more striking is the way relievers are being deployed. Teams like the Orioles, Rays, and Indians -- all interestingly doing better than expected so far this season -- are consistently trotting out four relievers a game. The Yanks, Sox and Jays aren't far behind; hardly surprising in the feverish AL East scramble where ''one-upmanship'' is the total obsession.

In one game in my survey period, the Royals used four pitchers throwing a total of 22 pitches in the eighth inning to hold the White Sox scoreless in a game K.C. won by eight runs. The Mariners did the very same thing against the Yankees also in the eighth -- four pitchers throwing 27 pitches allowing one run -- in a game they'd win by four. Mix and match, I guess, although it may have been a computer making the calls with the manager merely following orders.

"Bullpen by committee" is hardly new. The true inventor was not Tony LaRussa, who laid claim to the honor, but Dick Williams, maestro of those three-time Oakland champions of the early seventies. You may recall the A's chorus line of Hamilton, Locker, Knowles, Pina, Lindblad, Fingers, and company. Since then, rare has been the manager able to resist the temptation. Some -- like LaRussa -- have done it well; others, like Joe Torre, not so well. Although with a younger and healthier Rivera to bail him out Torre survived quite handsomely, nonetheless.

Where might it lead? What's the limit? One consequence clearly is longer, slower, more convoluted, often aggravating, games featuring oddly excessive strategizing. But a graver concern than mere issues of style is the health of bullpens. How many might yet blow up from egregious over-use this season? Are the Yankees telling us something? In case you haven't noticed, relievers are dropping like flies all over the baseball map. And it is still early, old Sport.

Nation
Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Nation
Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

World
Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Local
Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Local
Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Local
Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Local
Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Local
Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

Local
From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

Nation
N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

Nation
U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Nation
Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

World
Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

World
Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

World
In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Nation
Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Nation
Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

World
Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

World
Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

World
Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

World
Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

World
Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...

World
Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Nation
Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Nation
Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

World
Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Nation
Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Nation
Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Nation
Advocates decry historically low cap for refugee entry in 2019

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Advocates for refugee admissions into the United States decried what one statement called a historically low cap of 30,000 for fiscal ...

Nation
Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Nation
Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Nation
Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

World
Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

World
Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

World
Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Nation
Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

World
Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Nation
Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

World
Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

World
What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

World
Catholic workers say U.S. aid cuts to Palestinians could be disastrous

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- The U.S. budgetary cuts to humanitarian aid institutions helping Palestinians could lead to long-term disastrous consequences, said ...