Fear the beard: facing Giants' Wilson a scary thought for Rangers
San Francisco Giants teammates say closer Brian Wilson is "off the wall"
He has a mohawk, tattoos and a dyed-black beard to intimidate opposing hitters
Wilson's father died when the pitcher was 17 and he salutes him after each save
Let's be honest. The San Francisco Giants' closer looks like he's expecting Johnny Depp to sail into McCovey Cove any minute and carry him off to audition for the next Pirates of the Caribbean.
Brian Wilson is looking for a stage. And now he has it: Wilson will pitch in the World Series, the biggest stage in baseball, for the first time this week.
The off-kilter Giants have introduced themselves to the nation in the past two weeks and no one has made a bigger first impression than their crazy-eyed, black-bearded closer.
He's scared small children. He's freaked out adults. He has America wondering, "Who is that guy?"
That guy could have been the MVP of the NLCS against the Phillies, thwarted only by Cody Ross' ability to crack the Roy Halladay code and provide some critical offense on a pitching-drunk team.
Wilson earned a win and three saves in the series, finishing with the biggest appearance of his life on Saturday night in Philadelphia. The sixth San Francisco pitcher of the game, he was asked, once again, to deliver a five-out save. And he got it -- after walking Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley -- before finally sneaking a 3-2 slider past a frozen Ryan Howard.
After the drama, Wilson took his customary bow -- a crossed-arm, skyward looking tribute that is a complex nod to his late father, his Christianity and Mixed Martial Arts -- and then was attacked by his celebrating teammates.
"Complete chaos," Wilson said happily.
America, meet Brian Wilson.
"He's definitely off the wall," said his bullpen mate and locker neighbor, right-hander Sergio Romo. "He has a different mindset."
That's mandatory for closers, right? Romo, a short reliever, said his entire perspective changed in his few save opportunities because the pressure is so different. And though the best closer of the modern era is the buttoned down professional Mariano Rivera, baseball has a rich tradition of closers who are both offbeat and equipped with interesting facial hair: Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky, Rollie Fingers, the Giants' own Rod Beck. Wilson is carrying on that tradition.
"You have to have a little bit of an edge," Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "You have to have some kind of memory loss going on. Wilson is so fearless."
Wilson, 28, became the Giants full-time closer three seasons ago, when he looked quite different, clean-shaven with short brown hair. In 2008 he recorded 41 saves and was named to the All-Star team. As his dominance increased, his appearance has changed. First came the tattoos. Then the Mohawk, which started changing colors. Then the bright orange cleats that he adapted to baseball rules with a black Sharpie.
And finally this year -- another All-Star season, when he led majors in saves with 48 -- came the beard, which took on a black-Sharpie look of its own. Wilson, however, shrugs off questions about how his beard is so amazingly black.
"I'm just rocking the beard and keeping it fun," he says.
The fans in San Francisco have adopted the chemically-enhanced beard, wearing facsimiles to games, helping turn Giants postseason baseball into a black-and-orange costume party (the appropriately color-schemed Giants have the opportunity to play on Halloween for the first time in franchise history in Game 5 on Sunday). "Fear the Beard" signs have cropped up all over the ballpark. Most of the other Giants have grown beards.
But none can match Wilson's for weirdness. The other night after a save, Wilson stood in the Giants clubhouse, wearing sweatpants tucked into unlaced Doc Marten boots, a tight T-shirt and a knit cap pulled over his Mohawk and down to the edge of his wild eyes. If he had been standing a few blocks away, on the corner of Market and Sixth, he would have been given a wide berth.
"He's unique," Romo said. "He's the man. He has the type of attitude you need."
Giants general manager Brian Sabean once said that you can't teach someone to be a closer, that "either they can hack it or they can't."
Wilson can hack it, though he's made some adjustments. Early on he seemed perhaps too enamored of the spotlight. He had a reality show, Life of Brian, on a local cable network, a self-conscious attempt to showcase his offbeat manner. He stopped the show this season. An early adapter of Twitter, he abandoned it after one of his tweets seemed to imply he was out late on the road before an early game, in which he later blew the save. Wilson insisted he was in his room, but stopped posting his 140-character thoughts.
His teammates consider him crazy-smart, a whiz at chess, crossword puzzles and clubhouse debates on any topic. He's a workout fanatic, arriving early to the ballpark to run stairs and complete his daily routine.
"I'm trying to physically outwork my opponent," he said.
He attributes his work ethic to his late father, an Air Force veteran. Wilson said his father was a disciplinarian, teaching him tough lessons. But the toughest was when, at age 12, Wilson learned his father had cancer. His father died five years later, when Wilson was 17. He focused his grief on the baseball field, where he put his father's lessons to work
"He taught me that hard work pays off," he said.
The payoff is this week.
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