Interview by Josh Staph
The job of a Major League closer is one of the most stressful in all of sports. When the bullpen phone rings, the closer is rushed to the mound, given a few warm-up pitches and a moment to gather himself, and then handed the opportunity to decide the game. Only a handful of players have the mental toughness for the drama. Chad Cordero is one of them.
The Washington Nationals' star closer thrives on pressure-filled situations. During the 2005 season, he faced them better than any other reliever. Posting a ridiculously low 1.82 ERA, he racked up a league-best 47 saves, becoming, at 23, the youngest player in MLB history to deliver more than 40 in a single season.
Below, Cordero explains how he slams the door on opposing batters.
How much of being a closer is mental?
Cordero: For me, it's at least 90 percent. As a closer you face top hitters pretty much every night-guys like Barry Bonds. You just have to know that you're better than them-and that you can go in there and get them out. If you go in the game with runners on, you have to be confident that you can get your team out of the jam.
What's the difference between a starter's and a closer's preparation?
Cordero: Starters have to prepare themselves to go six, seven innings per outing, so they know they can't blow themselves out early. They can't go out and throw 100 percent each time; they have to pace themselves. Closers usually work for only one inning, so we can afford to go all out on every pitch. We also have to learn to put games behind us quickly. Chances are we'll be pitching the next day.
What's your mindset in the bullpen?
Cordero: I'm pretty relaxed most of the time. I really can't sit there and watch the whole game. I have to be moving around or joking a lot, because it gets too boring for me. We used to play games to pass time. If someone didn't clap when we got a hit or walk, we'd give him head slaps. If someone didn't pay attention for a couple if innings, we'd spit on his shoes or something like that. We did that to make sure that we were having fun but staying focused on the game. Around the seventh inning, we flip the switch and get serious.
Once the gate opens and you run to the mound from the outfield, how do you feel?
Cordero: I get goose bumps pretty much every time-especially on the road when (the home team's) songs are playing to get everyone pumped up. When we're at home, they play my song when I come out-"King Nothing" by Metallica. That gets me really pumped up. I still get nervous every game, but I have ways to deal with it. If I start feeling too nervous. I take a step back and find something in the stadium to look at. It could be something small or big-anything I can use to collect myself.
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