Kansas City Royals closer Scott Barlow has seemingly excelled at finding calm in the middle of potentially tense, anxiety-packed and nerve-racking moments when his teammates and the fan base rest all their hopes on his shoulders.
But it’s that calm that allows him to perform repeatedly and reliably just as he did in the final 1 2/3 of the Royals’ 5-4 win over the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night.
Barlow entered in the eighth inning with the tying and go-ahead runs on the base and just one out. He played the role of set-up man and closer as he pushed the Royals over the finish line as they completed their first rally this season after having trailed by three or more runs.
“I think the biggest thing for me, especially these past few outings and after the All-Star break, is just being calm in those situations,” Barlow said. “Especially on the road. It can get pretty hectic and loud, a lot of stuff going on. Flashing lights and all that stuff. I think it’s just being able to be calm in that moment and trust your stuff.”
Barlow retired the final five batters in order on the way to his 22nd save of the season, his 15 appearance of at least 1 1/3 innings.
He became the first Royals pitcher since Royals Hall of Famer Jeff Montgomery in 1995 to record nine saves of four outs or more in a season.
Montgomery serves as a television analyst for Bally Sports Kansas City, and remains around the team on a daily basis during the season. Barlow said he has taken advantage of chances to solicit advice from Montgomery and called him “a special guy.”
As far as the key to being able to sustain his effectiveness over multiple innings over the course of a season, Barlow pointed to his mental approach between innings.
“What I think helps me the most is being able to stay locked in and knowing how to adjust in that previous inning,” Barlow said.
Tuesday provided a great example. Barlow missed the strike zone and didn’t entice the batter, Jake Cave, to swing at either of his first two curveballs. So Barlow realized immediately that the curveball had “backed up” on him twice and he adjusted accordingly.
“It was really tough when first getting called up and not realizing that you have to make an adjustment, pretty much, the next pitch,” Barlow said. “It’s kinda having those repetitions and knowing what those adjustments are and now over-adjusting.”
Royals catcher Salvador Perez laughed at the notion of Barlow even having to make adjustments, and referred to Barlow a “the best closer in the game.”
“I don’t remember when he made adjustments because he’s always good,” Perez said. “He’s always good.”
Perez said if Barlow throws one bad pitch, then all of a sudden he gets right back on track a pitch later.
Barlow entered the night one of just two relievers in the majors with at least 60 appearances, five wins and 20 saves and the first Royals pitcher to hit each of those marks since Jakim Soria in 2011.
Of relievers with 20 saves or more, Barlow’s 68 1/3 innings pitched this season are the most. He has posted an ERA of 2.37 along with a WHIP of 1.01 and an opponent’s batting average of .207.
“I think our whole club has confidence whenever he walks out of the bullpen,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said of Barlow. “That’s the greatest compliment you can have when your teammates realize, regardless of the mess you’re in, this guy is going to figure out a way to get it done.”
Matheny said Barlow doesn’t get recognized enough for the “amazing” season he’s had thus far.