I have been retired from baseball for about 9 years now (well if you don't count the two comeback attempts). From 2002 to 2004, that number was being born, little by little growing, blood, sweat and tears coming all together to make that number mean a lot to me. Not because of personal accomplishment, but because those 84 saves I recorded were a total team effort. It became my little identity as a baseball player.
People remember that. And since I have been watching the game from the outside, looking in, I get to appreciate how crazy this record is and how lucky we all had to be. I realize how only an inch here and there would change everything. How a short center fielder went over the fence in Houston to steal a homerun on a 3-2 changeup to Lance Berkman in a stadium at the time that no way you could rob a homerun. Ironically, his name is Dave Roberts, the current Dodgers manager, a good friend of mine.
I loved the save because, to me, it was a team stat and it meant that I helped the team to win a ballgame. I know the save stats has a lot of people thinking that it is pretty easy compared to the older generation relievers and I could not agree more. Back in the days, guys like Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, and Mike Marshall had to appear in 125 to 200 innings as relievers. That is crazy and hard to compare, because I don't think it's fair for them and not a good comparison. It would be like saying that Maurice “Rocket” Richard would be the same exact player playing in today's NHL, which I don't think anyone could say for sure. Different speed, rules, enforcers, etc.
Let’s go back to that sweet memory I have. They used to say “Game Over” on the scoreboard when I walked in. Guns n' Roses playing as loud as possible in the speakers, and 51,000 fans going crazy. Trust me, that is by far the best feeling in the world. I will forever be searching for that high again, but I am not sure that will ever be possible.
I have been asked many times what I was like. How did you do it? Were you “in the zone” everyday? Well, here it is: I have no idea how it all happened, except that I worked extremely hard for a lot of years to get better. I had a lot of failures to get me to that point. I was in the zone, but there were days that I was really scared. Actually, most days I was scared, but when the fans were on their feet and when I got in the game, all I was thinking is: “go out there and preserve the win for your teammates that worked 7-8 innings to get there, get as many outs as needed and get out of there quickly.” That's the only thing I had in mind.
Of course, at that point of my career, I had been through a lot of ups and downs, so I was a little more mature. I would jog to the mound and everything would slow down. My trick was to sing my song in my head and keep the rhythm, so I knew I would slow things down.
And it happened: 84 times in a row. It’s crazy when I say that out loud. It doesn't sound right. A few weeks ago, my record was being challenged but ended after 60 saves in a row by Zach Britton, an amazing reliever from the Baltimore Orioles. The game his streak ended, reminded me of every teammate I had during my streak. All the great defenses that helped me preserve the.
Of course, records are meant to be broken and I know mine will be one day. But to see how hard it is to get that many saves in a row makes me appreciate what we accomplished as a team. I feel that it's not my own record, but it's a Dodgers record. It was the best moments of my career. It went so fast, but man was that fun.
Now, it's Jesen Therrien’s turn to go through the ups and downs, to learn who he is as a major leaguer and, little by little, learn the ins and outs of this never ending mental puzzle that is called pitching. Like I love to tell the kids I teach each offseason: “pitching is never fully mastered. It's like trying to make a puzzle with all round pieces: there's an infinite number of putting it together.” Our ambassador Jesen Therien has the chance to do it now and we are all behind you. Even with the Tommy John surgery he had lately, I am sure he will come back stronger. He has a great team around him and he is the type of guy who will come out stronger and better. He is the best candidate for an amazing comeback, and meanwhile, in his rehab, we all know he will learn a lot.