Santiago Casilla quietly doing a stellar job as Giants’ closer 

click to enlarge Santiago Casilla's rise to closer of the Giants hasn't received much hype, but it is an interesting tale. - PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP file photo
  • Santiago Casilla's rise to closer of the Giants hasn't received much hype, but it is an interesting tale.

The search was neither scientific nor exhaustive, but it wasn't cursory, either.

I've been working on the Internet longer than most sportswriters — first with the pioneering powerhouse that was San Francisco-based Quokka Sports during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s — so I'm fairly proficient and efficient at finding what I need on the Web, assuming it's out there.

In this case, the search proved fruitless, confirming my suspicion: Santiago Casilla is the least-hyped closer in recent playoff history.

Why? Why could I not find a single in-depth profile of the man who handles the tight ninth innings for the Giants these days? Heck, I couldn't even find a decent-length sidebar about the guy.

Is it because Casilla doesn't have a fan-friendly nickname? If he has one at all, it's unknown to the general public.

Is it because Casilla doesn't have a beard, or look otherwise housing-challenged? That seems to be a requirement of sorts these days, but Casilla opts for close-cropped hair, a clean-shaven mug and a uniform that actually fits.

(The beard thing, by the way, is a trend that really needs to die a sudden, painful death. It was kind of cool and interesting and even funny when Brian Wilson started something of a movement in the Giants' bullpen in 2010, but now it's much like Wilson himself: tired, played out and annoying.)

Is it because Casilla doesn't have a signature pitch? Wilson could touch 100 mph when he was closing out World Series games for the Giants. Sergio Romo did it with that slider on Haldol. Casilla throws hard and has quality breaking-offspeed stuff, but his excellence is more the product of smartly using his varied repertoire than of confidently relying on a singular master stroke.

It certainly can't be because Casilla doesn't have a great backstory. This is a guy who started his pro career under a false identity, working his way through the A's system as Jairo Garcia before getting popped for it in the wake of ramped-up, post-9/11, international-document scrutiny. A guy whom one of his former managers in Oakland once called a "spaz" for melting down mentally at the slightest whiff of trouble, only to pull a 180 and develop into a poised and reliable setup man in San Francisco before taking that last step up the relief ladder when Romo's closer clock struck midnight.

Whatever the reason, a lot of people are missing the boat, and it's most likely because his ascension into the role is so very Giants in the first place. Yes, there is a core of players that has been around since that first title in '10, but the hallmark of the team's half-decade of success is its ability to replace the seemingly irreplaceable, to "plug and play," as they say ... and get better in the process.

Angel Pagan in 2012 was 2010's Andres Torres, a relative unknown blowing minds with out-of-nowhere contributions. This year's Jake Peavy is 2012's Pat Burrell, the veteran midseason pickup thought to be done but emerging as crucial. Joe Panik is 2012's Marco Scutaro, providing wholly unexpected production against serious odds.

And just as 2012's Romo was 2010's Wilson, 2014's Casilla is 2012's Romo. As an ironic bonus, 2014's Romo is 2012's Casilla.

So Casilla cruises merrily along, creating only a dollop of Wilson's torture while displaying roughly 1/1,000th of Romo's emotion, yet closing teams out with the same regularity.

Doesn't much matter that Casilla's a virtual ghost, does it? He's a nightmare to face, and that's all the Giants need when they had to do a little search of their own.

Mychael Urban, a longtime Bay Area-based sportswriter and broadcaster, is the host of "Inside the Bigs," which airs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon on KGMZ "The Game" (95.7 FM).

About The Author

Mychael Urban

Mychael Urban

Bio:
Mychael Urban has been covering Bay Area sports for 25 years and has worked for MLB.com, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and KNBR (680 AM).
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