Detroit — His memory is a little like that closet you've been meaning to clean out. Separating essentials from throwaways can be a tough call.
Joe Nathan will hang onto the good moments from a 2014 season that was not his favorite year in big league baseball. The rest he'll trash, or at least sift for their lessons, both professional and personal.
Take that final game from 2014, at Comerica Park, against the Orioles in the American League Division Series, when Baltimore finished a three-game postseason eviction of the Tigers with a 2-1 victory at Comerica Park. Fans that day seemed, at times, as if they were at a funeral-home visitation.
"I think it was just quiet," Nathan said Thursday as the Tigers warmed up for their 2015 Winter Caravan tour with a 45-minute media session in Comerica Park's Tiger Den. "For anyone accustomed to that place, it was just a crazy, weird atmosphere."
There were merry moments, plenty of them, Nathan assures, from a season that saw the Tigers win another division flag and playoff ticket. Helping there was a bullpen closer's 35 saves, which pushed Nathan to 376 for his career, and leaves him only 24 saves from becoming the sixth pitcher in big league history to hit 400.
But the dark side of Nathan's moon was no fun: 4.81 ERA and astonishingly bad 1.53 WHIP. He had seven blown saves, which wasn't disastrous for a man with 42 save opportunities. But when you carry Nathan's profile and pride, failing is no fun, especially when Motown fans who remember how you tortured them in your previous life wonder why you suddenly turned human in Detroit.
"They had expectations," Nathan says of Comerica Park's customers, with whom he briefly feuded in June when they strafed him following a game, and he shot back with a flapping-glove gesture. "They let us know."
But that was a season ago. Now it is 2015. And, of course, Joe Nathan is thinking grandly about a new year. Except, of course, an interviewer can't help but ask about a certain reality.
How does it feel to be 40?
"I like it," said Nathan, whose milestone birthday was Nov. 22. "It's a good number. I can look at it in either of two ways:
"Damn, I'm old. Or, I'm fortunate to be playing this game till I'm 40 years old. It means some things have gone right."
They need to be even better in 2015 as the Tigers and Nathan bolt together what they hope will be a more durable bullpen.
Nathan is still the presumed closer. That's the Tigers' view even if Bruce Rondon, a right-hander with closer-like weaponry, and Joakim Soria, who has finished games galore in his big league life, figure to be there as interchangeable parts for any ninth-inning needs in 2015.
Nathan plans on nothing changing. He believes age had "zero" to do with last year's wobbles and that a bad arm angle was to blame. The arm slot has been lowered in a bid to put more heat on a fastball that isn't the incinerator it was during his Twins and Rangers days but can still work in the lower 90-mph range.
Pitching coach Jeff Jones agrees.
"It was getting higher and higher for a while," said Jones, who worked with Nathan on dropping his release point, which was the biggest reason, they say, behind his ERA moving from an incredible 5.61 during the season's first half to 3.70 after the All-Star break.
"That happens sometimes. It happened with Ricky (Porcello, now with the Red Sox) a few times. And then you start elevating pitches."
At the same time, Nathan concedes he will never have the old flamethrower he wielded in vaporizing hitters — none more than the Tigers — during his Twins-Rangers heyday. He will trust that a well-located, 92-mph fastball, paired with a slider that still behaves in diabolical ways, can be his formula for another 30- or 40-save season.
Jones nods and says Nathan might also more frequently mix in a curveball he used at times in 2014, as well as a change-up. Sounds like a plan to Nathan.
"With that arm angle that was so new to me last year, it should be comfortable now," Nathan said as the Tigers bus prepared to leave for multiple stops across Metro Detroit and the Lower Peninsula. "Everything's good."
At least it is when you're 40 and you're Joe Nathan, with a $10 million contract for 2015, and at least 10 million personal testaments for why a star closer isn't yet finished.