Results tagged ‘ closer ’
I was never a big Steve Howe fan, but I remember reading an article about one of Howe’s seven suspensions for substance abuse in which Yankee Captain, Don Mattingly was quoted and suddenly feeling sorry for the one-time NL Rookie of the Year reliever. According to Mattingly, Howe was one of the hardest working members of the Yankee roster and an outstanding teammate.
For whatever reason, George Steinbrenner loved giving former big league star players with drug problems second chances. Howe was one of the Yankee owner’s first reclamation projects and in the strike shortened season of 1994, he repaid the Boss by once again becoming one of the most effective relief pitchers in baseball. He saved 15 games in that abbreviated year and posted an ERA of under two, helping the Yankees build a huge lead in their division only to have the work stoppage destroy their season.
In 2006, Howe was on a highway in California, driving home to Arizona in his pickup truck following a business meeting. Witnesses say the truck just drifted onto the medium and rolled over. The former pitcher was not wearing his seat belt at the time and he was ejected from the vehicle and killed instantly. He was only 48 years old at the time of his death. Tests later revealed that Howe had methamphetamine in his system at the time of the crash.
Having smoked cigarettes for 17 years of my life, I will never wonder why people cannot overcome their addictions to chemical substances that temporarily relax them and provide a buzz. When we are young, we think we are immortal, able to do anything we want without fear of hurting ourselves. When wiser elders warned me I would find it very difficult to quit cigarettes, I laughed them off. But within a few years of taking my first puff, I was so hooked that I would find myself lying to my family so I could sneak away and grab a smoke. The drug of choice first takes over your body and then controls your life. Those that don’t quit fail to reach a point at which they know their lives will be better without the drug until it is too late, or never at all. I’m glad I was able to do so but again, I will never wonder why stars and celebrities like Steve Howe could not.
When Joe Girardi made a pitching change in the bottom of the eighth inning with the Yankees trailing by five runs in a September 27th game against Tampa in 2012, there was only one thing especially noteworthy about the move. It marked the first time in two years and eight days that David Aardsma made an appearance in a big league ball game. The six foot three inch, right-handed native of Denver had been one of the American League’s most effective closers, saving 69 games for the Mariners during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, when he injured both his left hip and his right shoulder, requiring surgery on both joints.
The Yankees signed him during the 2012 preseason knowing he might never pitch an inning for them. New York GM, Brian Cashman called the signing and “R&D move,” At the time, Mariano Rivera was hinting around that 2012 might be his final season and the Yanks were looking at Aardsma as a possible set-up guy for the 2013 season, taking over either David Robertson’s or Raffie Soriano’s slot, depending upon which of the two succeeded the great Rivera as the new Yankee closer. Cashman gave Aardsma a $500,000 one year deal with incentives and an option for a second season.
In a twist of fate, it is Soriano who won’t be pitching in New York in 2013, after he exercised an option in his contract and became a free agent after a superb 2012 season as Yankee closer. Rivera than announced he will be returning in 2013 and the Yanks have exercised their option on Aardsma and are bringing him back as well. In about five or six months we will know if Cashman’s R&D investment returns any big league dividends. Aardsma’s situation brings back memories of Jon Lieber. The Yankees signed the former Cub and 20-game winner in 2003 knowing he would miss that entire year recovering from arm surgery. Lieber than won 14 games as a starter for New York in 2004. Will Aardsma be another Lieber? Yankee fans certainly hope so.
Besides paying him lots and lots of money, the Yankees did very little to help Raffie Soriano feel comfortable or even wanted, when he first put on the pinstripes. He was coming off a league-leading 45-save, 2010 season with the Tampa Bay Rays and had declared free agency. Everyone assumed the Dominican right-hander would get signed to a huge contract by a team that badly needed a closer. Everybody was mostly wrong. Soriano got the huge contract alright, but it was with the Yankees, a team that already had the greatest closer who ever played the game in their bullpen. Not only would Soriano not be closing, the GM of his new team let it be publicly known that he was against his signing.
I had seen Soriano pitch with the Rays the previous two years and he certainly looked mean and intimidating on the mound. But after watching him try to acclimate to an eighth inning set-up role during his first season in New York, this new Yankee looked more unhappy when he was pitching than anything else. After holding opponents scoreless in his first two appearances, he got roughed up by the Twins for four runs in his third and finished his first month in New York with an ERA over seven. Than he got hurt in the middle of May and was on the DL for the next month and a half. By the time he got back, David Robertson had firmly ensconced himself in the Yankee’s eighth-inning set-up role and Soriano had to be wondering what his future was with his new team. But instead of sulking, he sucked it up and kept pitching and though he got roughed up a couple of times in the final two months of that 2011 season, I could tell the guy was a battler.
When the 2012 season started, the press crew covering the Yankees were all trying to figure out if it would be Mariano Rivera’s final year. Robertson’s brilliance in 2011 dictated he’d start the year as the eighth-inning set-up guy and Sori was once again expected to work the seventh. Then on May 3, the Yankees were taking batting practice in Kansas City and Rivera fell awkwardly on Kaufman Stadium’s center field warning track while pursuing a hard-hit ball off the bat of A-Rod. I’m sure lots of Yankee fans watching replays of Rivera being carted off the field felt New York’s hopes of making the postseason were being carted away with him.
I remember thinking how badly Soriano must have felt when Joe Girardi turned to Robertson in the first save situation the Yankees faced without Rivera, especially because the opponent was Soriano’s former team, the Rays. Robertson was successful in that first attempt but he blew the next save and then injured his ribs. Suddenly, Soriano was the new Yankee closer. Forty-two saves later he was arguably the most valuable Yankee of the 2012 regular season. Considering his shaky start the season before, it was a truly remarkable performance, one of the most clutch in franchise history.
After New York’s disappointing 2012 postseason, during which he pitched four and a third innings of scoreless ball, Soriano decided to take advantage of the opt-out clause in his Yankee contract and again become a free agent. Fortunately for New York, Mariano Rivera announced he was coming back in 2013. Still, losing Soriano represents a major depletion in the Yankees’ 2013 bullpen. I’m so glad Hal Steinbrenner overruled Cashman two years ago and insisted the Yankees sign this guy. I’m going to miss him staring inside his hat before facing a batter and untucking his jersey after nailing down a save. I hope that’s all I end up missing.
Before there could be a Rivera or Gossage or Lyle, there had to be a Joe Page. One of seven children, Page was born on October 28, 1917, the son of a Cherry Valley, Pennsylvania coal-miner. Page began his Yankee career as a starter in 1944 when he won five of his first six decisions and made the AL All Star team as a 27-year-old rookie. Page then hurt his shoulder in a fall while running the bases, kept the injury quiet from Yankee skipper Joe McCarthy and proceeded to lose his final six decisions that season. He was used mostly as a starter the next two seasons with mostly unspectacular results which is why he ended up in the place most under-performing starters ended up back in the forties, the bullpen. But instead of treating his new status as a bullpen pitcher as a demotion, Page seemed to relish it.
By 1947 he had evolved the role into one of baseball’s first great closers, leading the league in games finished for three straight seasons while winning 34 games in the process. When the “save” became an official Major League stat in 1969, baseball historians reviewed old box scores to apply it retroactively and found that Page led the league in saves in both 1947 and ’49, while saving 60 games over that three-season period. Page also appeared in two World Series, winning and saving a game in each Classic, both Yankee victories. After slumping to a 3-7 record in 1950 with an ERA that ballooned to over 5 runs per game, the Yankees released their first-ever ace closer. He tried an unsuccessful comeback with the Pirates a few years later before hanging it up for good.
Page was the first Yankee and first Major League reliever to reach the 20-save mark when he accumulated 27 in 1949. Sparky Lyle was the first Yankee to reach the 30-save mark when he had 35 in 1972. Dave Righetti became the first Yankee to break the 40-save barrier with his 46 in 1986 and the great Mariano Rivera is the only Yankee reliever to save 50 or more games and he’s done it twice, the first time in 2001.
Back in the nineteen fifties, slugger Mickey Mantle would begin drooling a week before his Yankees were scheduled to play a series against the Washington Senators. Why? There were three reasons, and their names were Chuck Stobbs, Camilio Pascual and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Pedro “Pistol Pete” Ramos. They formed three fifths of Washington’s starting rotation back then and it seemed as if Mantle hit three-fifths of his 536 lifetime home runs off the trio. Pascual and Ramos were both from Cuba and both were actually very talented big league pitchers. In fact, I saw Pascual pitch a couple of times live at Yankee Stadium and several times on television and to this day, I believe he belongs in Cooperstown. Ramos was a notch below his countryman in talent but it would end up being Ramos who would help pitch the Yankees into a World Series.
Pedro pitched his first seven big league seasons for the Senators (who moved to Minnesota and became the Twins in 1961) and achieved double figures in victories in six of them. Unfortunately, thanks in large part to the anemic offense and porous defense of those Washington teams, Ramos also lost 112 games during that same span. He was then traded to the Indians, where he pitched decently for almost three seasons until September 5, 1964 when Yankee GM Ralph Houk acquired him for two players to be named later, who would turn out to be pitchers Ralph Terry and Bud Daley.
Yogi Berra had replaced Houk as Yankee skipper that season and the team took a long time to respond to their new Manager and were in danger of not reaching the World Series for the first time in five straight seasons. Berra’s starting rotation and bullpen were running on fumes. The additions of Mel Stottlemyre and Ramos proved to be the perfect elixir to what ailed Yankee pitching. Ramos took over the closer role and pitched brilliantly, saving eight games down the stretch as New York pulled off a late-season surge to win the AL Pennant. Unfortunately, he had joined the Yankees to late in the season to qualify for the World Series roster so he was forced to watch helplessly as the Cardinals beat New York in that year’s seven-game Fall Classic.
Houk then replaced Berra as Yankee Manager with Johnny Keane right after that series and Ramos spent the next two years as the closer on a Yankee team that was not able to generate too many leads that needed closing. Still, Ramos did save a total 32 games for New York during the 1965 and ’66 seasons before getting dealt to Philadelphia for relief pitcher Joe Verbanic. He retired after the 1970 season with a lifetime record of 117-160, 55 saves and 13 shutouts.
It seems Ramos was pretty much a wild man in his private life. In fact, his nickname “Pistol Pete” was only partially attributable to the right-hander’s fastball. This guy actually carried a gun with him off the field, almost all the time. He once used that gun to shoot out the screen of his family’s television set when he objected to the channel choice of Mrs. Ramos (who quickly thereafter became the ex-Mrs. Ramos.) He also used his gun after his playing days were over when he got himself involved in Little Havana’s drug business, which landed him in jail in the early 1980′s.
Ramos shares his April 28th birthday with this former Yankee pitcher.
|MIN (7 yrs)||78||112||.411||4.19||290||199||56||58||10||12||1544.1||1579||808||719||210||491||740||1.340|
|CLE (3 yrs)||26||30||.464||3.87||109||68||15||15||3||1||519.0||489||262||223||75||152||363||1.235|
|NYY (3 yrs)||9||14||.391||3.05||130||1||91||0||0||40||203.2||191||80||69||18||45||147||1.159|
|WSA (1 yr)||0||0||7.56||4||0||1||0||0||0||8.1||10||7||7||2||4||10||1.680|
|CIN (1 yr)||4||3||.571||5.16||38||0||12||0||0||2||66.1||73||41||38||8||24||40||1.462|
|PIT (1 yr)||0||1||.000||6.00||5||0||3||0||0||0||6.0||8||4||4||2||0||4||1.333|
|PHI (1 yr)||0||0||9.00||6||0||4||0||0||0||8.0||14||8||8||1||8||1||2.750|
Jim Konstanty became one of baseball’s first outstanding relief specialists when the Phillies brought him up to the big leagues for good in 1948. He threw a lot of junk with great control and in 1950, his work out of the bullpen won the Philadelphia Whiz Kids the NL Pennant and Konstanty an MVP award. But the following season, the right-hander thought he needed another pitch to continue his success and he claimed it was his efforts to develop that pitch that screwed up both his rhythm and confidence. Whatever the reason, Konstanty was never again able to regain his 1950 form as a Phillie. Five years after watching him hold the Yankees to just one run as Philadelphia’s surprise starter in the first game of the1950 Series, Casey Stengel told George Weiss to buy Konstanty’s contract in 1954. Jim pitched well for New York the final month of that season and in 1955, he became a top reliever in the American League with a 7-2 record, 11 saves and a 2.32 ERA. Stengel had so much pitching depth on his team that season that he decided to leave Konstanty off the World Series roster, forcing the Strykersville, NY native to watch helplessly as Brooklyn finally beat New York in a Fall Classic. New York released Konstanty the following season and he retired after a brief stint with the Cardinals. He died in 1976.
Konstanty shares his birthday with the first hitter in Yankee franchise history to lead the league in most strikeouts during a regular season.
The 1961 New York Yankee team was loaded with talent at every position, except one. They had no closer. Ryne Duren was supposed to fulfill that role but he was a serious alcoholic and by 1961, his drinking and his behavior when drinking had gotten completely out of hand. New York traded the troubled Duren to the Angels and manager Ralph Houk eventually replaced him with a Puerto Rican screwballing lefthander named Luis Arroyo.
At the time Arroyo was already 34-years old. He had made his big league debut seven seasons earlier, with the Cardinals, going 11-8 as a starter in his rookie season and making the 1955 NL All Star team. The following year, Fred Hutchinson was hired to manage St Louis and Old Hutch did not like Arroyo. Instead of getting the opportunity to make his second NL All Star team, Luis first found himself back in the minors as the ’56 season started and then traded to Pittsburgh. He spent the next four years battling a sore arm and developing a screw ball. By the time he joined the Yankees in 1960, his arm had healed and he had perfected his new signature pitch. He went 5-1 in his first season in New York setting the stage for his magical year in 1961.
Arroyo appeared in 65 games that season, finishing 54 of them. He compiled a 15-5 record and saved 29 games. He relieved Whitey Ford 24 times that season and saved 13 of the Yankee aces 25 wins. Arroyo’s ERA was 2.19. Topping that off, he hit .280 that year and pitched four shutout innings and got a win in the ’61 World Series against Cincinnati, gaining some revenge on Fred Hutchinson, who by then was the Reds’ Manager.
Unfortunately for Arroyo, that great screwball he developed has also been described as the reason why he again developed a sore pitching arm. That sore arm limited him to just 27 appearances in 1962 and just 3 the following year. The Yankees released Luis at the end of the 1963 season.
The consensus was that Ryne Duren was the best reliever in all of baseball in 1958. This near-sighted monster on the mound used to throw 100 mph warm-up pitches five feet off the plate to unnerve on-deck hitters. The Yankees got him in the same 1957 trade with Kansas City that ended Billy Martin’s pinstriped playing career. GM George Weiss then sent the wild right-hander to New York’s Denver farm club to work on his control for the rest of that season. The move worked. Duren went 13-2 in the Mile High City and more importantly lowered his bases on balls from more than one per inning to less than one every three innings. He joined the parent club in 1958 and absolutely dominated opposing teams in the late innings of Yankee ball games, leading the league in saves and striking out 87 batters in the 75 innings he pitched that year. He also won and saved a game in the 1958 World Series, helping New York avenge their 1957 Fall Classic defeat to the Braves. While Duren may have learned how to control his fastball, he couldn’t figure out how to control his drinking and the guy was a mean drunk. In the end, alcohol dependency destroyed his career but his eventual ability to overcome it created another one for him as a substance abuse counselor. He is credited with helping many active and ex big league ballplayers kick the habit. Duren was born in Cazanovia, Washington in 1929.