It’s in our nature, as humans and, especially, as writers, to create connections. Sometimes it serves as a way of forging bonds, other times it’s entirely meaningless, like the way cracks in the sidewalk become a test of maternal love.
Six years ago Edwin Díaz and I graduated from our respective high schools, flush with the impatient certainty of success that comes with that time in your life. In the years that followed, I lost nearly all of that certainty, but Díaz scarcely did. He spent two seasons in rookie ball, earning recognition as Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year in 2013. A promotion to Clinton in 2014 saw him statistically sputter but, based on conversations with 2015 Bakersfield Blaze pitching coach Andrew Lorraine, his confidence remained unshakeable. He bounced up to AA Jackson that year, and it was there, the following year, that the Mariners transitioned him from a starter to a reliever. One month of relief work, and a few triple digit radar gun readings, was enough to catapult him up to Seattle, where he made his major league debut. Less than two months later he debuted as the team’s new closer and the strings of our lives transversed once again, as we each took steps forward into new adventures.
Díaz and I have spoken a handful of times, we have no real connection, yet I feel a strange kinship towards him. Like many people my age - like many people, period - I am uncertain. I doubt myself and my purpose, and that doubt rides along with me at every turn, making my back ache, shoving my shoulders forward, sitting heavily on my eyelids. I imagine Díaz once felt similarly, perhaps when he was young and began to realize his talent could change the lives of his entire family, or perhaps for a stretch last season, when he struggled mightily and was demoted from closer. It’s clear though, in watching him this season, that he has vanquished any last vestiges of uncertainty.
He’s always been good, but this year there’s been a marked change in his demeanor on the mound; he’s more composed, more visibly sure of himself, even less rattled in times of adversity. The fire is still there - he’s as fearsome a competitor as he ever was - but now he’s using that fire to hone in on his opponents, and the stats reflect this shift.
Edwin Díaz is the best closer in the American League. Scarcely two months into the season and he’s already surpassed his 2017 fWAR, fueled by a career-high 47.4% K-rate (tied for best in the American League) and a renewed strength in his slider, which he’s thrown 168 times this year and which has been put into play just 13 times. He has the most saves in the American League, tied for the most in baseball, and is throwing with a steadfast, uncompromising authority.
Last night against the A’s, who have quietly amassed a 104 wRC+ and collective .421 slugging percentage, Díaz appeared, dare I say it, workman-like, disposing of Chad Pinder, Jed Lowrie, and Matt Chapman with 13 pitches in less time than it takes for his intro video to play all the way through.
It’s been incredible to watch him on the mound this season - displays of overwhelming dominance always are - but it’s also been inspiring. I’m certainly not going to go out and start throwing 100 MPH fastballs, but watching Díaz exorcise his remaining doubts and cement his place within the game and this franchise (he’s now tied for fourth most saves in Mariners history, thank you Dylan Jenkins) gives me a little extra faith in myself.