One of the most important players on a baseball team is the relief pitcher who comes into a close game in the ninth inning to try an hold the lead and save the game. These relief pitchers, known as “closers”, can make or break a game or an entire season. Most championship teams have a dependable, dominating closer. Over the past 37 years of watching Phillies’ baseball, I’ve seen many dominating seasons by Phillies’ closers. I’ve rated the top ten seasons by Phillies’ closers based on the following criteria: saves, earned run average, strikeouts per nine innings and walks plus hits per inning pitched. The pitcher earned bonus for team playoff appearance, Cy Young Award and World Series Championship. Here’s my top ten, enjoy and debate is always welcome.
10. Ryan Madson, 2011
Ryan Madson was a reliable relief pitcher and integral part of the 2008 World Series winning team, but 2011 was his first season as the closer. He didn’t disappoint, appearing in 62 games, saving 32 and pitched to a 2.37 earned run average. Madson allowed only 56 hits and 16 walks in 60 2/3 innings, while striking out 62. Madson became a free agent and left the Phillies and hasn’t pitched another game in the Major Leagues due to injury.
9. Mitch Williams, 1993
Mitch Williams, known as “Wild Thing” for his propensity for walking batters, was a key component to the 1993 National League Championship winning team. Although there were very few easy saves with Williams on the mound, he saved 43 games and had a respectable ERA of 3.34, considering he allowed 100 base runners in 62 innings. But Williams struck out 60 and more often than not, got the job done. People will still remember the World Series losing home run to Joe Carter, but the Phillies don’t make the World Series without Williams as the closer.
8. Ricky Bottalico, 1996
Ricky Bottalico was a 26-year old, hard throwing reliever for the Phillies in his first season as the closer. Although the Phillies were a 67-win, last place team, they were in good hands at the closer position. Bottalico saved 34 games and allowed only 47 hits in 67 2/3 innings, while striking out 74. Bottalico saved 116 games over a 12-year Major League career with an earned run average of 3.99.
7. Jose Mesa, 2001
Jose Mesa was a 35-year old veteran and in his first season with the Phillies in 2001. Coming off a few shaky seasons, Mesa was the Phillies closer on a team that won 86 games. He had a stellar season, saving 42 games and had an earned run average of 2.34. In 69 1/3 innings, he allowed 65 hits and 20 walks, while striking out 59. Mesa retired following the 2007 season with 321 saves, 112 of them for the Phillies.
6. Al Holland, 1983
Al Holland, known as “Mr. T”, had perhaps his finest Major League season as the closer for the 1983 National League Championship winning Philles. Holland saved 25 games and had an earned run average of 2.26. In 91 2/3 innings, he allowed only 63 hits and 30 walks, while striking out 100. Holland pitched for the Pirates, Giants, Phillies, Angles and Yankees and finished with 78 saves and a 2.98 ERA.
5. Steve Bedrosian, 1987
Known as “The Rock” or “Bedrock”, Steve Bedrosian was in his second season with the Phillies in 1987. He struggled in April, but ended up saving a career and league high 40 games, earning the National League Cy Young Award. In 89 innings, he pitched to a 2.83 earned run average, allowing 79 hits and 28 walks, while striking out 74. Bedrosian finished a 14-year career following the 1995 season with 184 saves and a 3.38 earned run average.
4. Jonathan Papelbon, 2012
Jonathan Papelbon came over to the Phillies following six consecutive seasons with 30 or more saves with the Boston Red Sox. He didn’t disappoint in his first season with the Phillies, saving 38 games and posting an earned run average of 2.44. In 70 innings, he allowed 56 hits and only 18 walks, while striking out 92. In 545 career games, Papelbon has 298 saves and an earned run average of 2.40.
3. Tug McGraw, 1980
Tug McGraw was a 35-year old reliever in his sixth season with the Phillies in 1980. The Phillies had been a dominant team in the later 1970’s but could never get over the hump to win a World Series. That changed in 1980 with the help of McGraw, who dominated in the closer’s role. In 92 1/3 innings, McGraw allowed only 62 hits and 23 walks, while striking out 75. He saved 20 games and had a miniscule 1.46 earned run average. McGraw retired following the 1984 season with 180 saves and a 3.14 earned run average.
2. Billy Wagner, 2005
Billy Wagner was a dominating left-handed closer who played over half of his career with the Houston Astros. In his second full season with the Phillies, Wagner was nearly impossible to hit. He allowed only 45 hits in 77 2/3 innings and struck out 87. He was tops in the league in games finished and had 38 saves, to go along with a 1.51 earned run average. Wagner retired following the 2010 season with 422 saves and a 2.31 earned run average.
1. Brad Lidge, 2008
Brad Lidge came over from the Houston Astros prior to the 2008 season. Lidge was without question the best closer in the National League in 2008. He saved 41 games in the regular season without a blown save and seven more in the post season for a total of 48, in 48 chances. Lidge allowed only 50 hits and two home runs in 69 1/3 innings, while striking out 92. His earned run average was a slim 1.95. He struck out Eric Hinske to end Game 6 of the World Series and give the Phillies their first World Series championship since 1980. Lidge struggled the following season and had injury problems until he retired in 2012. Lidge finished his career with 225 saves and a 3.54 earned run average. Without question, 2008 was the best season of his career, and number one on my list.
Honorable mention: Gene Garber (1977), Ron Reed (1978), Mitch Williams (1991), Doug Jones (1994), Heathcliff Slocumb (1995), Jose Mesa (2002)