The slider doesn’t have to be perfect.
The fastball does.
Will Smith isn’t the closer in the conventional sense that comes in and blows people away with speed, like Aroldis Chapman. He gets outs with his slider. That often requires going deeper into counts, which means throwing more pitches. Getting batters to chase pitches that end up out of the strike zone is how he gets strikes. If he wants to pepper in the fastball, it has to be surgically placed.
It has to be perfect.
With the ghost runner at second, the Rangers leading 2-1 and trying to sneak out with a win in a game that they didn’t even score a run in until the ninth and didn’t have had a lead until the top of the tenth, Smith threw three sliders to Giants leadoff hitter Thairo Estrada before getting him to pop out on a fastball down and away.
With the next batter, he struck out Joc Pederson on a steady diet of sliders, down and away and nowhere near the strike zone.
Then came Patrick Bailey. He throw the slider for a strike, then a slider for a ball. Then, he thought he would sneak in a fastball.
The Rangers 2-1 lead didn’t last very long.
Dane Dunning did something he had never done. He struck out twelve batters. Not only that, he didn’t issue a single walk, giving up just one solo home run.
And the Rangers were attempting to do something they had never done this year. Win a game in which they trailed going into the ninth.
But Dunning’s masterpiece, and their unlikely two-out rally in the ninth, and their go-ahead run on a balk in the tenth, all went away because Will Smith threw his fastball.