Over the course of my pitching career, I've pitched in all situations. I've started, pitched in middle relief and as a setup man. But as a closer, you get a thrill that's second to none.

It's just so much fun to pitch that ninth inning. Holding the smallest of leads while trying to get those final three outs is the greatest adrenaline rush.

One of the reasons I've had some success as a closer is that I try to treat the ninth inning just like any other inning. When you break it down, my job is to get three outs before a run crosses the plate. A pitcher tries to do that regardless of what inning it is, so I keep it as simple as possible, so that I'm not putting too much pressure on myself.

It's important for any pitcher to understand his role. A closer's job is not really any more important than the seventh-inning guy or the eighth-inning guy. The difference is there is a lot more buzz about the ninth inning.

Off the mound, you prepare a little differently, too. I pitched in as many as 85 games in a season with Pittsburgh before becoming the closer. It's easier to stay sharp when you're pitching that often. When you're closing, you have to learn how to stay sharp when you aren't throwing that much.

As a closer, you have to be more attentive to your sideline throwing sessions, and sometimes you have to throw an extra bullpen session when you haven't pitched for awhile. Going a week or so without a save situation can be difficult.

Having been a setup guy, I know the value of the guys bridging the gap to the starter. A closer is only as good as they are. If a starter leaves after the seventh inning with a lead and the bullpen doesn't hold the lead, there is no save opportunity. The closer is only as good as the team's weakest link.

I was fortunate to have some veteran guys in my early years with the Pirates. As a rookie, I pitched with Roberto Hernandez and, later on, with Mike Gonzalez and Salomon Torres. I was able to learn and talk to some experienced closers, which was really helpful.

Over the last couple of years, I've tried to talk to other closers around the game -- guys like Brad Lidge, Trevor Hoffman and a few others. I try to pick their brain to find out what they do to get ready. I take some of what they do and apply it to what I do.

Matt Capps, who saved a career-high 27 games this season and 66 games over his final three seasons with Pittsburgh, recently signed with the Nationals as a free agent. As a setup man in 2006, he pitched 85 games, which remains a career-high.