Persistence pays off when focus is directed toward the future rather than the past.
For closer Cody Allen, this principle applies in 2017.
The Cleveland Indians flamethrower has been nothing short of consistent since his meteoric rise through the pipeline in 2011-12. Allen hurled 98 minor league frames before getting the call and making his MLB debut on July 20, 2012. Just 410 days separated Allen from the day he was drafted to the day he stepped on a big league mound for the first time.
A stellar 2016 campaign highlighted by 14 shutout innings in the postseason has suddenly put the emerging 28-year-old in the conversation as one of the best closers the game of baseball has to offer.
"Just got in a good groove," said Allen when asked about his near-perfect playoff performance. "Just trying to take it one pitch at a time, it’s hard to describe. Just one of those stretches (where I) felt really good and just kind of built off of it."
Alongside the 2016 ALCS MVP, Allen and Andrew Miller teamed together in what proved to be a lethal late-inning combination. The duo each made 10 appearances and combined for 33 IP, 20 H, 3 R/ER, 10 BB and an eye-popping 54 K.
14.7 K/9 is certainly not too shabby when opposing the high-powered offenses of the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs.
"It was a great experience; it was a learning experience for a lot of us," Allen said. "After we got home, my wife and I went on vacation and that was a good time to reflect on 2016 and everything that happened. But once we got back home, it was all 2017. We’re focused on that."
Unsurprisingly, the High Point University product is already looking forward to the upcoming season with higher expectations than ever before. Despite a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the last four years, Allen strongly believes in focusing on the club's future goals rather than dwelling on its inevitable past.
"We understand that we have a big target on our back now," said Allen. "Just to get to that last game of the year is hard; we understand that getting back there is going to be even harder. We understand the task ahead of us."
As a collective unit, Allen, Miller and Bryan Shaw morphed together and posted countless scoreless appearances in nail-biting situations. When Shaw surrendered a 10th inning go-ahead double to Ben Zobrist on a 98-mph cutter over the outside corner of the plate in Game 7 of the World Series, there was nothing to do besides a tip of the cap.
"You can drive yourself crazy because the guys we are playing against – the guys in this league, they’re the best players in baseball," Allen said of the premier competition his team is going up against. "The guy is standing up at the plate, you make a really good pitch to J.D. Martinez, he hits it 430 feet. That’s going to happen sometimes."
But Allen does not mind the pressure of pitching in the ninth inning. In fact, he embraces it.
With an 87% conversion rate, an average fastball velocity of 95-mph and a knee-buckling 12-6 curveball, there are few other players suitable for Allen's role.
"I think you’re forced to," said Allen in regards to pitching with a short-term memory. "If you sit back and blow one, you can’t really feel sorry for yourself, nobody else is going to. The only thing you can do is just wipe it out because if you’re thinking about the last one and you’re pitching in the next one, you’re dead in the water. You just got to go out there and compete. All you can do is prepare as best as you can and just go compete."
Now it is just a matter of sustaining that competitive edge and enforcing it upon the weakening AL Central Division. To do so, Allen has resumed his off-season throwing program in preparation for pitchers and catchers camp on Feb. 12.
"Kind of went about it the same way, took a couple weeks off, got right back at it," Allen said about the shortened off-season. "I was kind of surprised at how well I bounced back, how good I felt once I started. (My) throwing program has been pushed back just a little bit with spring training being a little bit longer this year, you have a little bit more time with the WBC (World Baseball Classic) and everything. I’m just trying to go about everything the same way."
When asked about the prospects of potentially returning to the World Series, Allen responded quickly with a determined assertion.
"We would love to, we have all thought about it," said Allen. I don’t think we’ve really talked about it out loud, but I know I’ve thought about that. There’s a lot of work involved in that, there’s a lot of preparation. We as a team understand that there’s going to be a lot of work. It’s going to be tougher this year to get back because we have that target on our back."
"We understand the task at hand; we’re ready for it."
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.