MINNEAPOLIS – John Wetteland is 42 years old, except on opening day, when he wakes up and feels like the young man and the closer he was through most of the ’90s.
“Opening day, you wake up and you want to pitch, get that first save out of the way,” he said. “You come to the game fired up beyond belief. You watch the game for eight innings hoping you get to work the ninth.”
Wetteland is the Seattle Mariners’ new bullpen coach and, as such, he’s seen Brandon Morrow prepare to continue what he began in 2008.
“I’m sure Brandon feels the same way today I always felt,” Wetteland said.
Morrow, 24, didn’t argue.
“I’ve had a lot of nervous energy all day,” Morrow said. “Opening night is a little different than anything in spring training. You start thinking about the ninth inning, those last three outs, and there’s always a little anxiety – until you start warming up.
“Then you focus on the job.”
Wetteland saved 330 games in his career, 320 more than Morrow has to this point.
“The ninth inning is a different bear,” Wetteland said. “You’re the guy who comes in after your teammates have worked eight long innings – and you can save it or lose it all in 10 minutes. It’s a job you love, or it turns you to oatmeal.
“I never enjoyed pressure. I responded to it.”
Morrow got the job last season when J.J. Putz went on the disabled list, and found he loved it. He got the job this season when Putz was traded to the New York Mets, and when he asked for it in spring training.
“You walk out there, focus in and turn everything off,” Morrow said. “Those are probably the toughest three outs in baseball and you have to make every pitch a good one. You sit in the bullpen during the game and you can sense it coming.
“Opening night, you want to nail down that first win. I hope I get in, and I hope we all go home happy. If I don’t get in, I hope we win a blowout and all go home happy.”
Though Morrow didn’t get a save opportunity Monday night in the Mariners’ 6-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins, one thing every closer knows is how much his team depends upon him doing his job.
“You know the guys are behind you, but you want to nail that first save down, get your own confidence up and get their confidence in you,” Morrow said. “You never know when you’re going to get the chances, but you know how important each one is.”
Wetteland remembers one opening day save in New York, when he was the Yankees’ closer and Mariano Rivera was his setup man. It snowed all game.
“I remember sitting in the bullpen and not being able to see home plate at one point,” he said. “There were these huge flakes falling. I pitched, and I don’t think the outfielders could see the plate, either. Crazy game.
“The one thing you have to do out there in the ninth – every time – is execute. You’ve got to slow things down a little in your head, focus on every pitch and what you want to do with it. You make a mistake, the game’s over. You’re the man out there. If they have to bring in someone else, the game is lost.”
Morrow loves that feeling.
“When you’re going well, the adrenaline is there every night. When you’re not, you have to fool yourself a little. Either way, it’s the most exciting job in baseball.”
Putz does job
In his debut appearance with the New York Mets, reliever J.J. Putz pitched an uneventful eighth inning Monday and setting up Francisco Rodriguez for the save in the Mets’ 2-1 victory over Cincinnati.
Both relievers were acquired in the offseason after the bullpen cost the Mets late-season leads two years in a row.
Putz, who saved 101 games in five seasons for the Mariners, allowed a walk in his inning. Rodriguez, known as K-Rod, saved a record 62 games for the Los Angeles Angels last season.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The Mariners are 18-15 in opening day games.
2009at TwinsW, 6-1
2003A’sL, 5-02002White SoxL, 6-5
2000Red SoxL, 2-0
1999White SoxL, 8-2
1996 White SoxW, 3-2
1994at IndiansL, 4-3
1993Blue JaysW, 8-1
1990at AngelsW, 7-4
1989at A’sL, 3-2
1988at A’sL, 4-1
1987at AngelsL, 7-1
1984Blue JaysW, 3-2
1982at TwinsW, 11-7
1980Blue JaysW, 8-6