Relief pitchers are often defined by their eccentricities. Red Sox fans need only harken back 10 years to when Mike Timlin fronted a popular “bullpen band,” known for its creative use of drumsticks and collection of inimitable personalities.
While the antics of Boston’s current bullpen are far more understated, they too have carved their own legacy.
Forever creatures of habit, each Red Sox relief pitcher has his own seat in the Fenway bullpen. Look closely and you’ll notice that each seat is marked with a senior yearbook photo pasted to the wall above it.
“I think it might’ve been Joe [Kelly],” said righthander Heath Hembree on who formed the idea. “We sit in the same seats every day so it was like, ‘Why don’t we get a photo and put it up behind us?’ Then it became, ‘Let’s get a senior year pic.’
“It’s actually a picture of a picture. Everybody just told their mom, ‘Hey, take a picture of the senior photo that’s in the house.’ ”
The newest member of the group, 35-year-old Blaine Boyer, knows a thing or two about the importance of camaraderie among relievers.
“I’ve been on some teams where not much is connected and everybody’s going in different directions,” he said. “This is certainly not that. Everybody here [has been] open arms since Day 1 for me. The personalities are great.”
Beneath Kelly’s unassuming manner rests a wry sense of humor that may explain the origination of the yearbook photo phenomenon.
“Most bullpen pitchers sit in the same spot every day and instead of putting name tags up where everyone needs to sit, I thought about doing photos because a lot of guys down there can’t read,” Kelly chided. “Once they see their face, they know they’re supposed to sit underneath [the photo].”
Relief pitchers spend most of the game together, watching their teammates battle as they await a call that may or may not come. What could turn into boredom has instead spurred a tradition.
“We just get along,” said closer Craig Kimbrel. “We’re all about the same age. We have a lot of things in life going on that are in common. How many times do you have the opportunity to spend the amount of time we do with guys?
“You’re going to get to know some guys pretty well and your goofiness or quirkiness or whatever you have in you is going to come out a little bit. You see that when you have the time to sit around like we do and think stuff up and just joke around. We have a special group of guys.”
The fun and games are enabled by the Red Sox bullpen’s sterling performance in the late innings.
Per Fangraphs, Boston’s bullpen entered Thursday night’s series finale with the Twins boasting the majors’ second-lowest home-run-to-fly-ball ratio (9.7 percent) and third-lowest collective earned run average (2.98).
Kimbrel has been his usual dominant self, converting 40 of his last 41 save opportunities dating to last season. Matt Barnes, Hembree, and Kelly have settled into consistent roles, with the latter posting a 1.10 ERA in his first full year as a reliever.
Until their success wanes, Boston’s stable of relievers will continue to keep things loose, chiding one another on their boyish looks of yesteryear.
“Bringing up my yearbook from my senior year in high school was hilarious,” Boyer recalled.
“I can’t believe I looked like that. I think [Joe] has something new for this road trip, too.”
When asked to supply a teaser, Boyer interjected.
“We don’t even know what it will be. I have no idea.”
Owen Pence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.