Work Samples

Utah's Lyon relishes role as MLB closer

July 13, 2008

By David Driver
For the Deseret News, used with permission

WASHINGTON Brandon Lyon, the setup reliever for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007, was handed the closer's role before this season even began.

"He earned it through performance," said Bryan Price, the D-backs' pitching coach.

The Salt Lake City native promptly had two blown saves in his first four outings and allowed homers in both games. But Arizona manager Bob Melvin kept Lyon as the team's closer.

"Bob stuck with him. There was never any wavering," Price said.

Lyon, a Taylorsville High graduate, rewarded Melvin for that show of support. The 6-foot-1 right-hander set a franchise record earlier this season for relievers with 25 straight scoreless innings. The streak was broken June 17 against Oakland.

That was the longest streak for a Major League reliever since Francisco Rodriguez went 31 straight innings in 2006. Lyon notched his career-high 19th save on July 8 as Arizona All-Star Brandon Webb won his 13th game of the season against the Nationals.

"It is a situation I am comfortable with," said Lyon, 28, sitting in the Arizona clubhouse before last Thursday's game in the nation's capital. "I have been here before" as a closer.

Lyon, a former pitcher at Dixie State, was second in the majors with 35 holds coming into the game with his team ahead or tied for the lead, and not relinquishing the lead last season, when he appeared in a career-high 73 games. He pitched in all three National League Division Series games against the Cubs and in two NLCS games against Colorado.

The St. George resident entered this season with a franchise-best 59 holds. But Price and Glenn Sherlock, the Arizona bullpen coach, said Lyon's personality is ideal as the closer.

"He does a great job. He is the leader of our bullpen," Sherlock said. "He has been very durable. He runs the bullpen. The guys look up to him."

Sherlock said he has not noticed a difference in how Lyon prepares for games now that he is the closer. "I don't do anything different," said Lyon, who had 14 saves in 2005 for Arizona.

In his first 38 games this season, Lyon was 2-3 with a 2.43 earned run average and had allowed 35 hits in 37 innings with 28 strikeouts and just seven walks. He had a blown save July 10 in the bottom of the ninth against Washington, thanks in part to fielding woes by third baseman Mark Reynolds, but the D-backs went on to beat Washington 7-5 in 11 innings.

Lyon, who throws a fastball in the low-90s with a curveball and change-up, made his Major League debut with Toronto in 2001. He says his curve was once his fourth-best pitch but has developed into his second-best offering after his heater.

"His temperament fits the role of closer," Price said.

"He is a great story. Last year was a breakout year for him. You would never know the (game) circumstances by his body language."

Price said he also appreciates that, in an age of on-field celebrations for perhaps unwarranted occasions, Lyon is a throwback to an earlier era. "He brings the game back to an element I admire," Price said.

Lyon said Price "doesn't teach his way. He helps you in your way. He understands how to make everyone better."

Off the field, Lyon, who turns 29 on Aug. 10, is a leader in one of the youngest clubs in the majors.

"He is probably the most laid-back closer I have ever seen," said Reynolds, the second-year infielder. "Off the field, he chills and is laid back. He gives rookies some crap. I should know."

Lyon, a prep teammate with catcher John Buck of the Royals, was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 14th round and made his pro debut for Class A Queens in 2000. He made his Major League debut with the Blue Jays in 2001, when he was 5-4 with an ERA of 4.29 in 11 starts.

He was 1-4, 6.53 in 15 games (10 starts) in 2002 with Toronto. In October of that year, he was acquired off waivers by Boston and the Red Sox turned him into a reliever.

Lyon was 4-6, 4.12 with nine saves in 49 games out of the bullpen for the Red Sox in 2003. After the season, he was traded to Arizona with lefty pitcher Casey Fossum and Jorge de la Rosa and a player to be named later (Michael Goss) in exchange for pitcher Curt Schilling.

He pitched in six games in the minors in 2004 for Tucson but did not pitch for Arizona. Lyon was on the disabled list from April 3 through the remainder of the season after nerve transplant surgery in his right elbow that March.

Lyon came back to pitch for the Diamondbacks in 2005, when he posted a record of 0-2, 6.44 with 14 saves in 32 games out of the bullpen. He was on the disabled list from May 13 to Aug. 12 with a right elbow strain.

He was 2-4, 3.89 with no saves in 68 games out of the bullpen in 2006 and 6-4, 2.68 with two saves in 73 games out of the pen last season.

Now he is back in a role he relishes as a closer.

"The atmosphere," Lyon said, "is just an exciting part of the game to be a part of."