Results tagged ‘ closer ’
Raise your hand if you can remember when Lee Smith was the Yankee closer. You remember Smith, I’m sure. He was baseball’s all-time saves leader until Trevor Hoffman notched his 479th save during the 2006 season. A native of Jamestown, Louisiana, Smith had an 18-year big league career that saw him wear the uniform of eight different teams.
The Yankees got him from St.Louis on August 31, 1993, after New York’s regular closer, Steve Farr went on the disabled list. Unfortunately for both Smith and the Yankees, he didn’t get much of a chance to do what he did better than anybody in baseball during his short tenure in Pinstripes. During the month he was a Yankee, the team was only in four save situations and Smith saved three of them, including career number 400.
When asked about his inactivity, the huge right-hander told the Big Apple sports press he didn’t know why the Yanks got him in the first place because what they really needed was a starting pitcher. Sure enough, when Smith’s contract expired at the end of the 1993 regular season, New York let him sign with Baltimore, where he would lead the AL in saves the following year.
Many of the players who played both with and against Smith feel he deserves to be in Cooperstown but he’s never received more than 48% of the sportswriters’ Hall of Fame votes. His one achilles heel was the postseason. He only played fall ball twice during his long career, once with the Cubs in 1984 and again with the Red Sox in ’88. Both teams were eliminated in the LCS round and though Smith did have one save, he also lost two decisions and had a combined ERA of 8.44.
|CHC (8 yrs)||40||51||.440||2.92||458||6||342||0||0||180||681.1||591||240||221||38||264||644||1.255|
|STL (4 yrs)||15||20||.429||2.90||245||0||209||0||0||160||266.2||239||92||86||23||68||246||1.151|
|BOS (3 yrs)||12||7||.632||3.04||139||0||115||0||0||58||168.2||138||68||57||13||79||209||1.287|
|CAL (2 yrs)||0||5||.000||3.28||63||0||59||0||0||37||60.1||50||23||22||3||28||49||1.293|
|MON (1 yr)||0||1||.000||5.82||25||0||14||0||0||5||21.2||28||16||14||2||8||15||1.662|
|CIN (1 yr)||3||4||.429||4.06||43||0||16||0||0||2||44.1||49||20||20||4||23||35||1.624|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||0||0.00||8||0||8||0||0||3||8.0||4||0||0||0||5||11||1.125|
|BAL (1 yr)||1||4||.200||3.29||41||0||39||0||0||33||38.1||34||16||14||6||11||42||1.174|
The best closer ever. Those really are the only four words you need to describe “Mo’s” career with the Yankees. In my fifty-plus years of being an avid Major League baseball fan, I’ve seen nobody end games as successfully as this guy did for the past nineteen seasons. And the amazing thing is that he did it with one pitch, a cut fastball. Yankee fans watched Rivera’s cutter break a remarkable number of big league bats over the years. The pitch had such late and significant movement that it was almost impossible for even the most skilled big league hitters to get the meaty part of their bat on the ball. I heard Jim Kaat try to explain it years ago during one Yankee broadcast by telling viewers that Mariano had very long fingers, which helped him get more spin on the cutter than most other pitchers who threw it. Add in his flawless mechanics which enabled him to precisely replicate his elegant delivery pitch after pitch and you have the formula for closing perfection that danced to the tune of “Enter Sandman.”
When I think of Mariano I will remember his postseason brilliance which included 42 saves, an 8-1 record and an ERA of 0.70. I will remember him setting the MLB career saves record during the 2011 season. I will remember how he returned from an ACL tear at the age of 43 and went on to save 44 games during the final year of his Hall of Fame career. But most of all, I will remember how secure every Yankee lead seemed to be at the end of the eighth inning for almost two straight decades and how comforting it was as a Yankee fan to see that bullpen door swing open and see number 42 trot in to that elevated circular spot in the middle of the infield from where he performed his magic.
Thank you Mariano Rivera. Yankee fans will never ever forget just how magnificent you were.
Sparky Lyle was born in DuBois, PA on this date in 1944. I was a huge Sparky fan. When the Yankees grabbed him from the Red Sox in exchange for Danny Cater just before the 1972 season started, I knew it was a good move by the Yankees but I had no idea it would turn out to be one of the greatest trades in Pinstripe history. To understand the impact Lyle had on the Yankees, you need to consider what the Yankee bullpen was like before “The Count” arrived. In 1971, Lindy McDaniel and Jack Aker had shared the Yankee closer role and tied for the team lead in saves with four each. That’s right, it’s not a typo, four saves led the team. In Lyle’s first season as a Yankee, he saved 35 games and won nine more. The Yankees won 79 games that year and Lyle was involved in a total of 44 of those victories. His 1972 ERA was an amazing 1.95. Within a single season, Lyle had turned the Yankee bullpen into one of the best in the league. Gabe Paul continued to work his magic with clever trades over the next few seasons and by 1977 the Yankees were World Series winners and Sparky Lyle won the AL Cy Young Award with a 13-5 record, 26 saves and a 2.17 ERA. He went on to win three games during the 1977 postseason and cemented his reputation as one of the elite closers in all of baseball. So what does George Steinbrenner do? He goes out and signs another elite closer named Goose Gossage.
Update: The above post was written in 2010. Here’s an update. Just as Lyle retired from baseball after the 1982 season, America’s baseball memorabilia craze was gathering steam and Sparky was in a great position to take full advantage of it. Since he called southern New Jersey home by that time, he jumped at an offer to become a greeter at an Atlantic City Casino with former Yankee legend, Mickey Mantle. A New York Times article in 2010 quoted Lyle as saying the five years he spent at that hotel keeping Mickey out of trouble were “the best five years of my life.”
Then in 1998, he went to a New Jersey dealership to buy a new pickup truck and the owner of the place asked Lyle if he was interested in managing a new baseball team he was putting together for the Atlantic League, a brand new minor league that would be unaffiliated with any Major League franchises. Mantle had passed away by then and the memorabilia craze had also died, so Sparky said yes and became the first manager in the history of the Somerset Patriots in 1998, at the age of 53. He remained in that position for 15 years, retiring after the 2012 season. During that span his teams won five league pennants and compiled a won-loss record of 1024 – 913.
Reflecting on Sparky Lyle’s Yankee career today, I tried to compare him with the great Yankee closers I’ve seen pitch in my 54 years as a Yankee fan. He was definitely the first “great” Yankee closer of my lifetime. He lost his job to the second one, Goose Gossage, because he was older and couldn’t throw as hard. In fact, when an eighteen-year-old Lyle had his first-ever big league tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the scout running it watched the young southpaw throw a bunch of pitches and yelled out to him to show him his hard stuff. Lyle responded that he had been throwing his hard stuff, which explains why he was not signed by the Pirates. Still, I think the real reason that Yanks got Gossage in the first place was because Lyle was a bit too vocal about his lack of respect for Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. Dave Righetti lacked Lyle’s fun-loving and outgoing personality. For example, Rags would never sit naked on a birthday cake in the middle of a clubhouse, which was a Lyle tradition. Like Mariano, Lyle became great when he perfected one pitch. In Sparky’s case it was a slider, which he learned to throw because the great Ted Williams told him it was the one pitch the Splendid Splinter couldn’t handle. Bottom line is that Rivera will certainly be the last Yankee ever referred to as the greatest pure closer in baseball history but Lyle was the first.
Sparky’s wasn’t the only Yankee career Goose helped end. Ironically, another one belonged to this former teammate of Lyle’s who shares his July 22nd birthday. This former Yankee starting pitcher also share the Count’s birthday.
Here’s Lyle’s seasonal pitching stats as a Yankee and his MLB career totals:
|NYY (7 yrs)||57||40||.588||2.41||420||0||348||0||0||141||745.2||666||239||200||32||234||454||1.207|
|BOS (5 yrs)||22||17||.564||2.85||260||0||160||0||0||69||331.1||294||124||105||27||133||275||1.289|
|PHI (3 yrs)||12||9||.571||4.37||92||0||35||0||0||6||125.2||146||68||61||7||51||47||1.568|
|TEX (2 yrs)||8||10||.444||3.84||116||0||85||0||0||21||175.2||175||84||75||18||56||91||1.315|
|CHW (1 yr)||0||0||3.00||11||0||6||0||0||1||12.0||11||4||4||0||7||6||1.500|
The 1951 New York Yankees had both Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle in their lineup. They had MVP winner Yogi Berra and Rookie of the Year Gil McDougald in it too. Their pitching staff included Vic Raschi, Ed Lopat and Allie Reynolds who together won 59 games that season. But it was a 28 year old WWII veteran named Bob Kuzava who provided the spark that led the Bombers to the AL Pennant that season and the World Championship.
Kuzava was acquired by New York from the Senators, just before midseason that year. He started eight games for the Yankees and relieved in 15 others. He won eight times but more importantly, got five saves during the second half of that season. He then relieved Johnny Sain in the ninth inning of the sixth and final game of that year’s World Series after the Giants had rallied to pull within one run. Kuzava retired the next three batters to earn the save.
One year later, in the seventh game of the 1952 series, after Vic Raschi had loaded the bases with Brooklyn Dodgers, Casey Stengel gave Kuzava the ball again with a 4-2 lead with one out in the seventh inning. The southpaw reliever got the first batter he faced, Duke Snider to hit a harmless popup to the infield for the second out and he then thought he had gotten Jackie Robinson to do the same thing. But the October wind was swirling at Brooklyn’s Ebbets’ field that afternoon and it grabbed Robinson’s ball and started making it dance and flutter. The entire Yankee infield seemed frozen in their tracks when at the last moment, Billy Martin came streaking in from his second base position to snare the ball, inches from the ground, right beside Kuzava and the pitching mound. That catch is considered a great moment in Yankee franchise history. What gets lost in that same history some times is the fact that “Sarge” Kuzava had just gotten two future Hall of Famers to pop up to the infield with the bases loaded and then went on to pitch two more innings of hitless and scoreless relief to preserve another Yankee World Championship. All in a day’s work I guess.
Kuzava was born in Wyandotte, WI, on May 28, 1923. He pitched in pinstripes until June of 1954 when he was released. His Yankee regular season record was 23-20 with 14 saves and also 4 complete games shutouts. But it was those two October saves that defined his Yankee career.
Update: The above post was originally written in May of 2011. Though most of his Yankee teammates knew him by the nickname “Sarge,” Kuzava also had another alias, given to him by the late great Red Sox second baseman, Johnny Pesky. When both were still playing in the big leagues, Kuzava had once induced Pesky to hit a slow roller back to the pitcher and as Kuzava fielded the ball he heard Pesky scream at him “You white rat!” The new nickname sort of stuck with the pitcher. Years later, Pesky had been hired as a player-coach by the Yankees for their Denver Bears team in the American Association. One of the players’ on the Bears’ roster that year was Herzog. When Pesky saw him, he told the future Hall-of-Fame manager that he was the spitting image of Bob Kuzava. I’m sure Kuzava, who’s still living in his native Michigan and turns 90-years-old today, has no regrets about losing his “White Rat” nickname too Herzog.
Kuzava shares his May 28th birthday with another modern day Yankee reliever.
|NYY (4 yrs)||23||20||.535||3.39||104||29||40||12||4||13||347.1||329||145||131||24||142||187||1.356|
|WSH (2 yrs)||11||10||.524||4.34||30||30||0||11||1||0||207.1||213||114||100||13||103||106||1.524|
|CLE (2 yrs)||2||1||.667||3.74||6||6||0||1||1||0||33.2||31||17||14||1||20||13||1.515|
|BAL (2 yrs)||1||4||.200||4.00||10||5||3||0||0||0||36.0||40||18||16||0||15||20||1.528|
|CHW (2 yrs)||11||9||.550||4.39||39||25||5||10||1||0||201.0||182||104||98||11||118||104||1.493|
|PIT (1 yr)||0||0||9.00||4||0||1||0||0||0||2.0||3||2||2||0||3||1||3.000|
|PHI (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||7.24||17||4||7||0||0||0||32.1||47||26||26||5||12||13||1.825|
|STL (1 yr)||0||0||3.86||3||0||2||0||0||0||2.1||4||1||1||0||2||2||2.571|
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.