It was May 22 when Davey Johnson handed Tyler Clippard the ball for the bottom of the ninth inning of what became a 5-2 Nationals victory in Philadelphia, thus designating the right-hander his team's closer for the foreseeable future.
Exactly three months later, it's hard to dispute Johnson's decision. When Clippard finished off the Braves last night at Nationals Park, he secured his 28th save in 31 tries since getting the job.
Think about that: 28 saves in three months. That's one-half of the season. Over a full 162-game slate, he would finish with 56 saves. That would rank third all-time behind only Francisco Rodriguez (62 saves in 2008) and Bobby Thigpen (57 saves in 1990).
"I feel good," Clippard said with a shrug last night. "I don't really think it's any different than it had been in the past. I've been used a lot, and I'm used to it. So it's been good."
Clippard may be used to pitching a lot, but he's not necessarily used to pitching in so many high-stress situations. Sure he had to put out plenty of fires as the Nationals' top setup man the last two seasons, but ultimately he was handing the baton to another reliever for the ninth inning.
Then there's also the small matter of pitching in a pennant race for the first time. That ramps up the intensity just a bit, does it not?
"The energy in the stadium has definitely changed throughout the course of the year," he said. "More fans are showing up. They're more into the game, every pitch. Especially in the ninth. Especially against Atlanta. So yeah, you can feel the energy. For me, it's more of the same. I try to take every outing and approach it the same way. I don't feel any different. My nerves are good. So for me it's the same. But you can definitely sense the energy in the stadium."
Clippard hasn't exactly mowed down the opposition every time he's taken the mound. He's been prone to create a few jams for himself, as he did last night in letting the Braves' first two batters reach base in the ninth and bring the tying run to the plate.
But with only a couple of exceptions, he's gotten the job done. Opponents are hitting a scant .145 against him, and he's striking out 10.75 batters per nine innings.
"I mean, he's been outstanding," Johnson said. "We've had to change roles a couple times during the year because of the injury to Drew Storen and Henry Rodriguez has had some problems. ... The year he had last year was an unbelievable year. And he's doing the same thing closing."