PITTSBURGH – Sergio Santos arrived at PNC Park on Saturday afternoon and met with manager John Gibbons, who delivered the news everyone was expecting he would.
"We're moving Sergio out of that role," said Gibbons of the closer's spot, less than 24 hours after Santos blew his second save of the road trip and third of the season.
Until Casey Janssen returns, Gibbons will go with closer-by-committee.
"It could be Loup," said Gibbons. "It could be Cecil. Over the next few days it could be any of those guys."
The change is necessary and while fans aren't about to take pity on a multi-million dollar athlete, Santos' struggles are a reminder of the human element of sports. There he was on Friday night, having blown a two-run, ninth inning lead, hunched over at his locker, his head in his hands for what seemed like an eternity. Santos then stood up and addressed the media.
Later, once the ballpark lights had dimmed and he was back in his hotel room, Santos sifted through the litany of text messages he gets after each appearance, good or bad. His wife had written him and so had his parents. One of Santos' brothers, Gabe, chimed in. He got messages of support from aunts and uncles, too.
Like the goal crease in hockey, the pitching mound can be a lonely island when things aren't going well. Out on the road, it's easy to get lost in your thoughts.
"You go to the hotel and that night, the night of the game, it's usually the hardest, you know what I mean, that whole night," said Santos. "I mean, you close your eyes and you can't help but think about it. You think about a million different scenarios, what you could have done different."
The sun, as they say, always comes up the next day.
"The second you wake up the very next day you're presented with, basically, a choice," said Santos. "You could either feel sorry for yourself and say poor me or you could use the next day as an opportunity to know that what happened last night is not who I am."
Santos turned to an old teammate and friend for advice. He often plays the online game Words with Friends with Darren Oliver and on Friday night, Santos sent Oliver a message. He wanted to talk. Oliver invited Santos to call on Saturday morning.
"He said, 'I've been through this a million times. I was in the game for so long. You go through stretches where they're rough and they're ugly,'" said Santos. "He says, 'it's up to you to put a stop to it. They can go on for the whole season or you can nip it in the bud, get that confidence back and go out and pitch.'"
Santos need only look at his numbers for a stark reminder of how bad things have been. He's taken two losses, has blown three saves and has posted an ERA of 10.61 with a WHIP of 2.250.
He insists he won't dwell.
"For me, my edge has always been my confidence," said Santos. "Even in the midst of the biggest adversity, confidence, I think, is the one thing that's such a useful tool. So to even lose that, and don't get me wrong doubt creeps into your mind all the time, you get there, you're going, "Crap, is it going to happen all over again today? What's going to happen?' But it's so important to just push those thoughts out of your mind."
Santos is powerless over his role in the bullpen. He can't disagree with Gibbons' decision and he won't. All he can do is wait until Gibbons calls his name again.
"My whole thing is to help this team win in any way I can," said Santos. "Whether right now that's me throwing in the seventh, eighth, okay so be it because I know when I'm going good I can help this team win. More importantly, for this team to win, I've got to get right."