Sunday, October 4, 2015         


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Pitching through rough stretch made this AL All-Star stronger

By Ferd Lewis


Officially, pitcher Brandon League began this baseball season as what the Seattle Mariners politely referred to as their "interim closer."

It was a title that might as well have been affixed with velcro coming as it did with little expectation while conferring even less job security.

In the less grand lexicon of the clubhouse, League was deemed a "placeholder," somebody marking time in the position until the rightful owner, David Aardsma, came back from the injured list, somebody took the job away from League or it blew up in his face.

Whatever might happen first, League's hold on the position was initially given the over-under of, maybe, Memorial Day. After all, he'd been a set-up guy, managing just eight saves in seven previous seasons in the majors.

But as we have hit the halfway point in the season, the Saint Louis School graduate is not only firmly ensconced in the closer role but thriving there. He leads the American League in saves and is bound for the All-Star Game while doing it.

Those 23 saves (in 26 opportunities) and the 98-mph fastball that helped make them possible say a lot about the 28-year-old League. But not nearly as much as the turbulence he emerged from six weeks ago to become as solid a closer as there is in the game at the moment.

You want to see what All-Star closers are made of? In League's case, it is an alloy every bit as strong and, apparently, heat resistant as anything they work with at the nearby Boeing facilities.

And you have to go back to mid-May to appreciate it, a time when headlines in Seattle lamented "For Mariners, it's deja-Brandon, all over again" and "Should Brandon League remain the Mariners' closer? Should he be demoted? Does it really matter?"

Back then, League lost four games in five seemingly haunted nights, blowing three save opportunities. It was similar to the meltdown that helped chase away Brandon Morrow, a former first-round draft choice, whose trade brought League to the Mariners in 2010.

But where Morrow struggled to come out of his tailspin, League has soared. They say the two most important things a successful closer can have are a blazing fastball and a short memory, not necessarily in that order. And League had an abundance of both with plenty of perseverance thrown in.

Maybe in the midst of the mid-May challenges he found himself. Or, perhaps, he was just pressed to show what he had been made of all along and what he'd gained in experience.

For sure, he was much more mature than the time when he was at Triple A Syracuse and reacted to a bad outing by kicking something and breaking his toe.

Either way, manager Eric Wedge saw enough to stick with League, who has made it pay off with 20 consecutive appearances without allowing a run while converting the last 13 save opportunities to earn an All-Star spot. No easy task with the light-hitting Mariners.

After all that, League might miss the game since his third child is due later this month.

Meanwhile, League has long since shed the "interim" title he began the season with. He has also dispatched the notion of merely being a "placeholder."

Now, they call League an "all-star."

Reach Ferd Lewis at

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