Carlos Marmol's save on Sunday could be the first in his new life.
Whether the Cubs make the postseason or not won't be known until late September. What will be determined in the final 40 games is whether Marmol is ready to be the closer, and not just as a temp but full-time in 2010.
In his first save situation since taking over for Kevin Gregg, Marmol retired the Los Angeles Dodgers in order Sunday, and ended the game with Manny Ramirez looking at a called third-strike slider to preserve Chicago's 3-1 win.
"Just try to close the door, that's it," Marmol said. "It was exciting. Just try to throw strikes."
Lou Piniella decided last Tuesday to make the switch, saying the Cubs needed a "different approach." Gregg, who is 23-for-29 this season in save situations, understood.
"I don't blame them," Gregg said.
One week ago, the right-hander served up a game-tying RBI double to San Diego's Chase Headley in the ninth and then a three-run walk-off homer to Kyle Banks as the Padres rallied for a 4-1 win. It was the 12th homer off Gregg this season, most among Major League relievers. He gave up three in 72 games last season.
In a statistical oddity, all of Gregg's blown saves have come on the road, and all have come in pitcher-friendly ballparks. The first was April 10 in Milwaukee, then June 2 in Atlanta, June 23 in Detroit, Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 in Florida, and then San Diego. He's a perfect 11-for-11 in save situations at home with a 3-1 record and a 2.83 ERA. On the road, Gregg is 12-for-18, 1-4, with a 5.97 ERA. It can't be bad hotel pillows.
"I don't like to look too much into numbers because it can get overwhelming," Gregg said Sunday. "It's ridiculous the numbers you can come up with but it's hard not to notice when there's such a glaring difference like that.
"I just have to pay attention to some things when I'm on the road, look at what I do when I'm at home," he said. "Some of it could just be the way things go for me. Nothing jumps out at me to change."
Physically, Gregg is fine. He did go through a tired arm phase, but all pitchers experience that. This weekend, the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton admitted his arm was a little weary.
"You should be able to pitch when you're tired, you should be able to make outs," Gregg said. "That's the biggest thing."
Gregg was acquired because he had 61 saves over the past two seasons in Florida, because the Cubs decided to part ways with Kerry Wood and because the front office wasn't sure Marmol was ready.
Gregg came to be a closer by circumstance. With the Angels, he did everything: Long relief, start, setup. When he went to Florida, he began as the setup man. Gregg did go into Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez's office one day in Spring Training '07 and suggest he take over in save situations. The response?
"[Gonzalez] said, 'No, we'll figure things out,'" Gregg said.
The Marlins tried Jorge Julio, and he struggled. They tried some young power, strikeout pitchers. Gregg eventually got the job. He knows he doesn't have an overload of Ks in his stats line.
"Some people say that's closer stuff," he said. "I think there's more to it than stuff when you're pitching in the ninth inning."
There are the intangibles, such as intestinal fortitude. That's what the Cubs have to find out in the final 40 games.
"Marmol has definitely got the stuff to pitch in the ninth inning," Gregg said, "and I can see what they're doing and where they're going. Why wouldn't you give the guy a shot? He's got the stuff to pitch there. Now, you get into the dynamics of baseball."
Marmol won't have the luxury of being eased into it. Every game is critical for the Cubs, who are trying to defend the National League Central title.
"You never know what's going to happen," Marmol said. "You have to keep trying. Two weeks ago, we were in first. You should never put your head down. That's how I feel. Never put your head down."
OK, so we know he has the competitive fire. If Marmol has a flaw, it's that he sometimes will overthrow, which results in walks, which makes Piniella's stomach turn.
"I know what I was doing [wrong], and I feel very good on the mound now," Marmol said. "We'll see. I have to. Right now is my opportunity to show I can be the closer."
Gregg's job now hasn't changed. The timing is just different.
"Right now, I just want to get people out," he said. "Teams know I can close, they know what I can do. My whole goal is to get people out. Why I'm in this uniform is to help this team win."
After Sunday's game, Marmol has five saves in nine chances for the season. The last two springs, Marmol has reported to the Cubs' camp in Mesa, Ariz., competing for the spot.
"It'd be nice if, next year, the first day of Spring Training, you know what you're going to do," Marmol said. "It'd be nice to know that's your job. Hopefully, I can be the last guy in the bullpen. We'll see."
He's got 40 games to show the Cubs he can do it.