Cishek feeds off adrenaline of closing out games
Marlins righty enjoys the roller-coaster thrill ride that comes with his role
MIAMI -- Closing big league games can often be a wild ride, which is perfectly fine with Steve Cishek. The unassuming Marlins closer thrives on the rush of pitching with the game on the line.
"I'm an adrenaline junkie," Cishek said.
Not to the point of jumping out of airplanes, but the thrill of the ride gets Cishek going -- on and off the field.
On Miami's just-completed road series against Texas, Cishek spent the off-day on Monday at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington. For fun, he went to the amusement park with teammates Mike Dunn and Chris Hatcher.
The roller-coaster ride that got Cishek's blood flowing was the Titan, which ramps up to 85 mph and has a 255-foot drop.
"It was crazy. We were trying to describe it," Cishek said. "It would be like a dog sticking its face out of a car window going like 85. You can't even close your eyes, it's like pinning your face back. It was awesome."
A night later, Cishek took the mound and worked a perfect ninth inning, striking out Shin-Soo Choo to lock up the Marlins' 8-5 win over the Rangers.
Cishek now has converted 15 of 16 save chances, and he has not allowed a run in 21 of his 27 appearances.
Like a roller coaster, the art of closing is an adrenaline rush in its own way.
Miami has been one of the surprise teams in the league this season. The Marlins are in the hunt with the Braves and Nationals in the tightly-contested National League East race. The Mets and Phillies are also still within striking distance.
Every game right now is energy-packed.
"Right now, we're playing for first place," Cishek said. "Every game, I'm going in fired up. I guess you can say it is similar to going down the Titan, when you know you're going to go down about 85 mph."
When it comes to his craft, you don't hear a lot of bluster out of Cishek. The Falmouth, Mass., native doesn't draw any unnecessary attention to himself. Yet, he's quietly emerged as one of the best closers in the game since he took over the position from Heath Bell after the 2012 All-Star break.
Since then, Cishek has converted 94 percent of his save chances (63 of 67). Only San Diego's Huston Street has a higher conversion rate, at 95.3 percent (61 of 64).
Cishek's 63 saves also are tied with Philadelphia's Jonathan Papelbon for 12th most in the Majors since the All-Star break of 2012. Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel has the most saves in that span, with 85.
The common bond all the top closers possess is the ability to channel their emotions to get those final outs.
"If I don't have adrenaline, that's when I'm usually in trouble," Cishek said. "The velocity is the same, but the conviction behind the pitches isn't the same."
Deeply religious, part of Cishek's routine is to read a Bible verse before he throws his first pitch. He keeps the script card in his back pocket.
"It helps me relax," he said. "Then I'm dialed in. If I'm dialed in, that means I'm not hearing anything around me -- none of the fans wearing me out or anything."
At that point, Cishek's focus is on the signs of the catcher -- Jeff Mathis or Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
"All I see is Jeff or Salty throwing down the signs, and I'm going to work," Cishek said.
The Bible verse is the same one Cishek has read to himself ever since he broke into the big leagues: Colossians 3:23.
"Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men."
"For me, it makes it easier," Cishek said.
Despite his successes, Cishek, who turns 28 on Wednesday, still remains a relative unknown. One reason is Miami hasn't been particularly good in recent years. The Marlins have finished in last place three straight seasons and lost 100 games in 2013.
"He's been very consistent. And I think if he's not as well known as he probably should be, it's because we haven't been able to get him the ball as much as we probably should have," manager Mike Redmond said. "I think people understand how good he is. He may not get talked about as much as some of the other closers, but, man, we sure are lucky to have him. I feel good having him down there and knowing what he brings to the ballclub and how important he is."
Cishek holds the Marlins' record for most consecutive saves converted. It reached 33 from June 8, 2013, to April 25, 2014, when the Mets snapped it with a ninth-inning comeback at Citi Field. Since then, he has been perfect again.
Cishek's consistency and performance should gain him recognition as a possible All-Star. Fans don't vote for pitchers. The players, managers, All-Star managers and Major League Baseball combine to select the starters and relievers.
Cishek certainly is worthy of consideration. The lanky right-hander has never been an All-Star. In 2013, he was part of Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, and he felt the Midsummer Classic would be a similiar experience.
In recent years, Cishek has spent the All-Star break at Universal Studios. This July, however, he isn't planning on going to the amusement park because his wife is expecting their first baby. If he is an All-Star, Cishek's plans could change, because he may be heading to Target Field in Minnesota.
Whether Cishek winds up an All-Star or not doesn't diminish his value to the Marlins.
"You talk about how important it is to have a closer," Redmond said. "When you have opportunities to win a ballgame, and to be able to bring that guy in and lock down that win, that's huge."