He talked to Conte about the soreness just before the All-Star break, after working three innings and throwing 53 pitches over back-to-back nights in Arizona. "I didn't think too much of it at first; pitchers are always sore," Conte says. "But as time went on, it just never got better." Ice, anti-inflammatories, therapeutic massage, stretching exercises, light lifting, an extra day off when the team could afford it -- nothing helped. The trend was downward. Each game, it took him longer to warm up and longer to cool down. "It would get really hot," Nen says. "And I could pinpoint the pain. It wasn't like the general crankiness you always deal with as a pitcher."

Though he did deal. And dealt, too. Despite the pain, and what had to be a growing sense of dread, Nen kept going to the mound and kept getting guys out. He logged 19 saves in the second half of the season and posted an ERA of 2.94 over 34 innings. "I'm not really sure how he did it," Conte says. "Beginning with about six weeks to go in the season, he had a real problem with velocity, and he was having a hard time coming back each day."
There's a Faustian bargain here. Nen and the Giants were dealing with the devil. They were willing to sacrifice his arm, the last two years of his $36 million contract with the club, and maybe the rest of his career, for a chance to play in and win the 2002 World Series.

"I remember we were trying, Sabes [general manager Brian Sabean] was trying, to bring someone else in so we could give Robbie a break," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti says. "I wished we could have protected him more."
We felt to continue pitching wasn't going to make it worse," Conte says. "It was just going to hurt.
Of course, they could have. They could have sat him down, put him on the DL and used someone else. But the short-term risk in that move was great -- blown saves, lost games and fast-fading hopes of winning the NL wild-card spot -- and so they didn't.

"We felt to continue pitching wasn't going to make it worse," Conte says. "It was just going to hurt."

If jealousy is the green-eyed monster, championship lust is the monster's big, bad beast of an older brother. And if Nen's sacrifice demonstrates something noble about sports, it also reveals something cold, something willing to press on despite the human cost. There was some all-consuming impulse that made Conte keep nodding his assent, Dusty keep picking up the bullpen phone and Nen keep taking the ball.
Stan Conte
His dedication was singular and spectacular -- "We'd see him in the training room all the time, and what he went through, all the work, all the pain, just to throw one inning … I honestly don't know anyone else who would have done it," says teammate Scott Eyre -- but given the pennant-race circumstances and the intense longing of everyone in the organization, from the clubhouse to the front office to the fans in the stands, it was also, in a way, expected of him.

"You knew he wasn't going to use his arm as an excuse," Reuter says. "He was a team-all-the-way guy."
Down the stretch, Nen worked with guile and mystique as much as unhittable heat. His arm action was convincing ("I never stopped throwing all-out," he says), but the pitches weren't buzzing like they once had, so guys were often getting themselves out, gearing up to hit the Nen of old, the Nen who once clocked 102 miles-per-hour in the 1997 World Series, the Nen who'd always made them look slow.

Maybe he should have taken himself out of the mix. Maybe he should have let Worrell or Felix Rodriguez carry the load. But he was getting results, right up until the last, and, as Conte says, closers don't grow on trees. "It's a mental aspect. Some guys have it, some don't. A lot of guys can get three outs. Robb Nen could close."

Attitude was key. Fifty percent of closing is 100 percent mental, or something like that. "You had to believe to close," Nen says. "You had to know you were going to get people out every night, know that you were going to get their best guys out, every night." Which is why, somewhere in the midst of a stream of meetings with Conte, and visits to doctors for MRIs and diagnoses ("The doctor would say, 'I think it's this,' or, 'It could be that,'" he says), Nen stopped listening, stopped really trying to figure out what was wrong with the shoulder. No news was good news. The Giants were pushing for the NL wild-card spot. They needed a closer. What else did he need to know? "I got paid to close games, not watch them," he says. "I didn't want to know. I didn't want to know enough to have to make a decision."

His teammates knew he was hurting, but he didn't say much about it. Words weren't his way; talking wasn't his thing. He sat alone. He rode home from the ballpark in a quiet car with his wife, Jendi. He sipped a beer in a clubhouse corner. He woke up in the middle of the night gritting his teeth.

What was there to say? The arm felt lousy. Talking about it wasn't going to make it feel better and it wasn't going to get anyone out, either.
SBC Park
Was pitching with it making it worse? It's hard to know for sure, though Nen says: "I'm pretty sure I was doing more and more damage to it as we went along." Pitching certainly made it more painful. The shoulder needed rest. "We saw a labrum tear in the MRI, and we [Conte and Giants manager Dusty Baker] talked to him about shutting it down," Conte says. "At a certain point, seeing what he was going through physically, it was like watching a prize fighter who's getting teed-up, you know? We were like, 'Let's call it and go home.'"

Nen was having none of it. He saved nine games in September, the most he'd saved in any one month all season, striking out 14 in 10 innings. "It was just guts," Righetti says. "He got more precise with his location." Then, in the postseason, when the Giants turned off the speed gun in Pac Bell (now SBC) Park because he'd lost so much on the fastball, he somehow took his focus up a notch, registering seven saves in helping his club get past Atlanta and St. Louis, and on to the World Series and Anaheim.

Where Troy Glaus was waiting for him.

"I held it off for a while, but it went quick at the end," Nen says. "It just kept going down, down, down. In that last game, I wasn't throwing hard at all. I figured I could get him out somehow, but I could feel I was in trouble."
Officially, the Glaus at-bat is the last word. The last entry in the record book on Robb Nen is "Nen replaced Worrell; Glaus doubled to left."

Nen had always carried his losses with him, replayed them in his mind, used them for fuel the next day. "It's the last thing that happens," he says. "It stays with you."

Glaus' double, the finality of it, drove Nen on to three surgeries (to repair a torn labrum, torn rotator cuff and torn capsule cover around the shoulder joint) and three rehabs in two-and-a-half years. He sat in a wheelchair in the hospital lobby after the second surgery, listening to Conte tell him, "I think we can bring it back" [even though nobody has ever come back from a full cuff tear at the major-league level], and actually believed him. He washed windows and mirrors when Conte, making like Mr. Miyagi, thought it would help his range of motion. He threw when he wanted to rest and rested when he wanted to throw. One minute, he was just days from coming off the DL, and the next he was barely able to move. He was in ice, on meds, in the weight room and on the table.

None of which was quite enough. In February 2005, he announced his retirement.

"I just couldn't get back," he says.
Why did he do it?

Why, two years into a four-year contract, and with every nerve ending in his throwing shoulder screaming at him to take a seat, did he go down flinging, right up until that 2-1 pitch to Glaus?

It was a bunch of things …

It was the responsibility and the step-up he felt his big-ticket contract demanded.

It was that they asked him to.

It was a promise he made to himself back in the Triple-A days, when bone spurs and a stretched nerve cost him the better part of three seasons, to stay off the DL and in the action, at all costs.