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Minnesota closer woes, a look back in time

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Twins fans have been yearning for someone to trust in the ninth

Photos by Jim McIsaac and Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

When is the last time you felt confident in a Minnesota Twins closer? For me, it’s been a while. The trust is not there. We have had some good outings of course, but it seems like if it’s a close game in the ninth, I’m always secretly a little pessimistic when the closer makes his strut to the mound.

For me, it began when Joe Nathan came back after his injury in 2011 at Target Field. I think I lost some hair during the Nathan/Capps go around. It’s very similar to how I feel when Alex Colomé takes his place. It’s not entirely fair of me to say that about the Twins’ current closer, but three blown saves in five opportunities is a tough pill to swallow.

Let’s take a look back at the last two decades or so. Who was the best? Who scared you the most?

Beginning with ‘Every Day Eddie.’ It was a time when Twins fans could be excited. This was a guy who pitched nearly ‘every day’ and started taking over the closer role 20 years ago. His spot ending the games really was solidified in 2002. Eddie Guardado carded 45 saves but did have 6 blown saves that year. 2002 was the last time the Twins were in the AL Championship Series. He followed up in 2003 with 41 saves, 4 blown. He left the Twins for Seattle, finishing with 116 saves in a Twins uniform.

Next, we remember one of the best trades the Twins have ever made. Dishing my boy A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser. Joe Nathan took over the closing role in 2004, locking in 44 saves in 47 opportunities. There were stretches that season where he didn’t give up any runs. Those were from June 9 to August 18 and between August 25 and September 16. That is how you gain trust. Nathan had ups and downs, but when he got hurt in 2010, he was averaging 40+ saves a season for the Twins. Ever since, things have been a whirlwind for Minnesota.

The tallest man in baseball took the closing reins when Nathan went down. Jon Rauch, standing 6’11 with tattoos down his neck and back, actually did a decent job I thought. He managed to save 21 of 24 games in the first half of 2010, but the Twins wanted more.

Thank goodness we traded Wilson Ramos, our star, up-and-coming catcher at the time, for the illustrious Matt Capps… Capps was there to close 16 of 18 and post a 2.00 ERA in 2010. Okay, okay I will give him that. It was the next season, the opening of Target Field, where everything went haywire for Capps, and a returning Nathan for that matter.

Nathan came back and was never the same for Minnesota. After two blown saves, Capps took over again. It was back and forth. Capps managed to blow 9 of 24 save opportunities. Nathan blew just one more that season. It was safe to eventually say buh-bye to both. However, let’s not forget, Nathan was an All-Star two years in a row after that with the Rangers. Of course, that’s just how things go, but good for him.

Nathan left the Twins all-time Saves leader with 260. That’s just six more than Rick Aguilera.

The Twins tinkered around a bit, when they finally settled on Glen Perkins to fill the closer spot. The Minnesota boy quietly managed to get himself in the Twins top-5 saves leaders. From 2012-2015 he saved 120 games with 18 blown saves, though only one of those seasons the Twins garnered a winning record. His most coveted personal moment was probably closing out his home All-Star game in 2014. He ended the game tossing to teammate Kurt Suzuki. While Glen was alright, his 7 blown saves in 2014 really left a bad taste in my mouth.

While Glen was battling injuries, Twins were all over the place again with Carly Rae Jepsen (Kevin), Brandon Kintzler and Fernando Abad. Jepsen was released after a bad outing, Kintzler was strong, an All-Star even, but the Twins sent him to Washington when he was leading the league in saves. No worries though, we got Tyler Watson in that deal. Watson has yet to make it beyond High-A ball.

Matt Belisle got his shot in 2017, saving 9 games, blowing 5. Yippee.

Then the Twins made a move. In 2017 the club signed 41-year-old Fernando Rodney to a one-year $4.5 million contract for the 2018 season. He finished with 25 saves on the season, six blown. While Rodney brought some hype, his arrows went back into the quiver.

He left for the A’s and Nationals. With a 0-3 record, and 2 saves in 5 opportunities, he became a World Series Champion with the Nationals. Fun fact: He finished his 17-year career with a 48-71 record and an average of 23 saves a season.

With Rodney gone, Trevor Hildenberger was the next to give it a shot, alongside Blake Parker and Trevor May. Meh.

Taylor Rogers recorded 30 saves in 36 opportunities in 2019. In 2020 he had nine saves. The lefty was out of a job when the Twins signed righty Alex Colomé for one year $5.5 million, and here we are today.

I want to give the guy a shot, but it gives me Dan Bailey thoughts every time he takes the field. How can he recover from this? It’s mental now.

As we look back at the last two decades, it’s been a while since the Twins have had a go-to guy in the ninth. It’s time to get that back. It’s time to trust someone when the game is on the line.

By the numbers: Here’s a look at the top 4 closers in Twins history

1. Joe Nathan 260 saves 28 blown = 90% save rate

2. Aguilera 254 saves 52 blown = 82% save rate

3. Perkins 120 saves, 18 blown = 86% save rate

4. Eddie 116 saves 26 blown = 81% save rate