For six innings, Matt Longfield and Tom Bammann, the back end of the SteepleCats' bullpen, aren't exactly focused on the game. You wouldn't know it when manager Bryan Adamski calls their numbers, though.
"As a late-inning reliever, you can't really lock in too early," Longfield said. "If you do, then you're just mentally exhausted by the end of the game. It's not necessarily a bad thing for a late-inning reliever to kind of goof off at the beginning of the game."
Longfield has been one of the most reliable arms late in games for the SteepleCats. His 27 appearances are the most by a pitcher in NECBL history.
"Once it starts hitting the fifth or sixth inning, I really start getting my mind ready to get warm and get ready to pitch," Longfield said.
As the team's closer, Bammann knew he would get the call in final inning of a close game.
"I go in and out of the game," Bammann admitted. "Sometimes I'll walk around to get my mind off the game. Usually about the seventh inning I'll lock in on the game. But in the first couple of innings, I'm just trying to be funny out there [in the bullpen]."
That routine seems to be working for the combination this season, as both were elected to the All-Star game in mid-July.
"Longfield and [Bammann] are kind of two in the same," Adamski said. "They are the best late-inning combo, I think, in the league."
It certainly would be tough to find a better combo
"He really solidified the back end there," Adamski said. "He kind of took hold of the closer role after we moved Brian [Hunter]. Another All-Star for us, he's done a great job. It's a tough time of the year to lose him, and we're thin on arms as it is. We'll be fine, we'll have some guys step up."
A combination of SteepleCats' general manager Sean McGrath along with the North Adams' coaching staff and the coaching staff at Dowling College, where he plays in the spring, made the decision to shut him down as a precaution.
He took the closers role this summer when the team elected to move Brian Hunter into the starting rotation. A combination of Adam Sargent, Christian MacDonald and several other pitchers will look to help in the late innings for the remainder of the season.
When his season ended, Bammann was second in the league in appearances with 17. He allowed just four earned runs on 11 hits.
"I just went out and worked on keeping the ball down and throwing strikes," Bammann said. "You're mentality has to be go out and throw strikes."
High-pressure situations come with the territory of being a late-inning pitcher.
"That's the key right there, the mentality," Longfield said. "The hardest part about coming in to a late-game situation is really just getting your mind right and being in the right mindset to go into the game."
The 6-foot-5-inch lefty thrives in such situations. A reason he gets called on in tight spots is because of his ability to strikeout batters. In 252 3 innings this year he has struck out 34 percent of the batters he has faced. His 38 strikeouts are the best on the team.
"Any type of high pressure situation I love that," Longfield said with a grin. "I prefer that over a non-pressure situation any day, because the adrenaline gets going and that's when I feel focused and that's when it's really the most fun.
"Coming in with the bases loaded or the tying run on third with two outs, and coming in and getting the last out of the inning is the best. There is no better feeling than that."
The sidearmer features an ERA of 1.40 and has issued just nine walks while giving up only four earned runs.
Bammann was no stranger to high-pressure situations this season. In 24 innings, he faced 94 batters and struck out 20 of them.
"Sometimes it does get stressful out there, but you have to know you have eight fielders behind you," Bammann said. "If they put the ball in play you have to have good trust in your fielders, which I do."
One reason Adamski and pitching coach Kevin Smith use Longfield so often is because of his ability to get loose quickly. It gives the coaching staff a fast, reliable option in case a pitcher suddenly runs into trouble on the mound.
"We're below .500 with out him," Adamski said. "His ability to come in, in tight spots, his ability to come in after just four or five pitches needing essentially no time to get loose, his ability to throw on consecutive days, and he has five wins out of the pen. He's just valuable."