Jun 8, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
First things first: Rafael Soriano threw a bad pitch to Yonder Alonso with two outs in the bottom of the ninth late last night in San Diego. A 1-0 fastball up in the zone and over the plate to Alonso, who sent it flying over the right-field fence at Petco Park, sending the game into extra innings, with the Nationals ultimately losing 4-3 in the 11th.
This loss is on Soriano, who was one out away from securing the Nats’ seventh win in eight days but couldn’t finish it off.
But for anyone who believes this was merely the latest example of a substandard closer failing to do his job … well, let’s just go full-on Lee Corso and say: “Not so fast, my friend!”
Since late last summer, Soriano has been among the most-successful closers in baseball. Yes, that’s right. Among the most-successful closers in baseball.
Don’t believe it? Well, last night the veteran right-hander was scored upon for only the second time in his last 36 appearances. During a stretch that dates back to Aug. 24, 2013, he owns an 0.75 ERA, an 0.94 WHIP and 22 saves in 24 opportunities. Alonso’s blast was the first home run he surrendered in nearly 10 months.
That’s as good as any late-inning reliever in baseball. Even Craig Kimbrel. Yep, the Braves’ menacing right-hander, the best closer in the game, has been scored upon in eight of his last 36 appearances, including a blown save last night in Arizona. In the same number of appearances as Soriano, Kimbrel has posted a 2.12 ERA and 1.00 WHIP while converting 23-of-27 save opportunities.
Now, before you blow a gasket, the point here isn’t to suggest Soriano is better than Kimbrel. There’s nobody in baseball who doesn’t believe Kimbrel is the best closer in the game, including yours truly. Point is, Soriano has been much, much better than most who follow the Nationals tend to believe.
All closers are human, which means they’re going to give up a run every once in a while. And “once in a while” hasn’t come very often for Soriano and the Nationals since late last season.
Was last night’s loss a frustrating one? No doubt about it. What was shaping up to be another uplifting come-from-behind win, with Ian Desmond’s monstrous homer in the seventh putting the Nationals ahead for the first time all night, instead turned into a late-night horror show.
Yet this team has still won 6 of 8, still finds itself 1 game back in the NL East (where all five clubs lost yesterday, three after blowing ninth-inning leads) and still boasts the best bullpen in the majors.
That’s thanks in no small part to one of the very best closers in the majors right now, a fact that tends to get overlooked on those highly rare occasions in which he doesn’t get the job done.
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