Under Pressure

There are moments in every sporting event when the stakes are a little bit higher than usual. The fans are louder and the players work a little bit harder. There are times when the game is on the line when everybody involved can feel the pressure. It's during these moments that the best players distinguish themselves.

In baseball, many of these moments occur late in the game, in the eighth or ninth inning. This is why the closer position is so important.

Closers: The closer's job is to save the game. If a team has a lead heading into the last inning, the manager will bring in the closer to make sure that the other team doesn't come back. Closers are usually the best relief pitchers on the team.

Mariano Rivera: Over the weekend, Mariano Rivera saved a game for the New York Yankees against the New York Mets. It was the 500th save of Rivera's career. He is known as perhaps the best closer in history. He has helped the Yankees win four World Series titles. What makes him so great is that opposing teams almost never come back to win the game against Rivera. If the Yankees have the lead and Rivera comes out of the bullpen, Yankee fans are confident that they are going to win the game.

What makes a great closer?: The hardest thing about being a closer is that there is no room for error. When a starting pitcher gives up runs, it is usually early in the game and his team has a chance to make up for it. When a closer gives up a run, it can cost the team the game. Good closers have to be able to perform well knowing that their team needs them to be almost perfect. It's not easy.

Bouncing back: Nobody's perfect, not even closers. Not even the great Mariano Rivera. On his way to 500 saves, Rivera has made his share of mistakes. Even this season he has given up big home runs that cost the Yankees the game. But what makes Rivera so great is that he is able to bounce back and get the job done the next time he pitches. No pitcher is going to go through an entire career without making a mistake. A good closer will move on and try harder the next time.

Baseball is full of good players. But it is the truly great ones who perform the best in the biggest spots.

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