Leyland rode Rodney too hard

Rodney When the tale of the 2009 Detroit Tigers is someday written, there will be plenty of room for Justin Verlander's 19 wins and 269 strikeouts, and for Miguel Cabrera's MVP-caliber season, and for Brandon Inge's 27 homers and series of clutch hits. There will also be room for Cabrera's brushes with the law, and Magglio Ordonez's bizarre power slump, and the crushing failure of Jarrod Washburn.

In the end, though, the story will come down to that single number: 48.

In the season's ultimate game, at the very end of a long and no-doubt tiring season, Fernando Rodney threw 48 pitches.

Is 48 pitches a great number of pitches?

Well, I suppose that depends on who you ask. Jim Leyland might say that it's not, because he asked Rodney to throw 48 pitches. Ron Gardenhire might say that it is, because he asked his closer to throw only 21 pitches.

Granted, one might be more charitable if Rodney were a top-flight relief pitcher, like Joe Nathan.

He is not. Rodney finished the season with a 4.40 ERA. Entering Game No. 163, he had allowed at least one run in four of his last six appearances. Last season his ERA was 4.91; the year before that it was 4.26. Fernando Rodney is far from a bad pitcher. He's actually a decent enough pitcher who happens to have been hung, due to a series of accidents and misjudgments, with the "closer" tag.

That doesn't mean you don't use him. It just means you don't ask him to do more than he can do. Or is used to doing. Before Monday evening, Rodney hadn't throw so many pitches in more than four years.

Both managers' starting pitchers lasted roughly six innings. Both managers wound up needing roughly six innings from their relief pitchers. Ron Gardenhire got five outs from his closer, at the cost of 21 pitches. In addition to his closer, Gardenhire deployed six other relief pitchers.

It's rare that a closer is asked to throw more than 30 pitches, and so they don't pace themselves to do so. Jim Leyland used, aside from his closer, three relief pitchers (one of them for just one out and four pitches). Leyland got nine outs from his closer, at a cost of 48 pitches ... and, quite possibly, an American League Central championship.