Baseball Digest Birthdays: Rick Aguilera

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

With 2010 fading quickly and 2011 straight ahead, a few baseball teams are hoping for big things next season. One of these teams is the New York Mets. They are hoping to turn their recent slump around and return to the days of competing for world titles. Fittingly enough, on the eve of 2011, the day’s birthday features the winning pitcher of the epic Game 6 comeback by the Mets against the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series.

Rick Aguilera, born on December 31st in 1961, was drafted by the New York Mets in the third round of the 1983 June Amateur Draft and quickly moved through the minor league ranks. He reached the big leagues in June of 1985 and helped the Mets battle the St. Louis Cardinals for the division lead. Though the Cardinals pulled ahead in 1985, Aguilera and the Mets made history in the very next season.

Aguilera again filled the back end of the rotation for the 1986 Mets, helping the team reach the postseason for the first time in 13 years. Though he wasn’t spectacular in the World Series against Boston, Aguilera was credited with the win in Game 6 that turned the momentum for good. Injuries set in over the next few seasons, but Aguilera was effective as the team made another push during the 1988 season. He allowed just one run in three games in a losing effort against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.

With his success as a reliever in the postseason, the team made the move to the bullpen permanent in 1989. The move proved a success as the right hander had a 2.34 ERA in 36 games. The Mets saw an opportunity and traded Aguilera along with three other players to the Minnesota Twins for Frank Viola. Though Aguilera was used as a starting pitcher the rest of season, his transition to relief pitcher was far from over.

Beginning in 1990, Rick Aguilera became the closer for the Minnesota Twins. As the anchor of the bullpen, he helped the team secure their second World Series title just four seasons after their last title in 1987 by notching two saves in defeating the Atlanta Braves in the 1991 World Series.

In an April 1992 issue of Baseball Digest, Jeff Hardie asked the question, “Has The Save Rule Become Too Liberal For Relievers?” Click here to read the article featuring quotes from several players!

Between 1989 and 1999, Aguilera dominated the role of closer with 254 saves. His dominance was rewarded with three trips to the All-Star Game. He had a brief stint with the Boston Red Sox in 1995 when Minnesota traded him in July of that year when the Twins fell far from contention. Aguilera pitched well down the stretch for Boston, saving 20 games with a tidy 2.67 ERA. He struggled in the postseason, allowing a game tying home run in Game 1 of the 1995 American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians.

After just the half season in Boston, Aguilera returned to Minnesota, where he remained until the team traded him again. This time he was shipped to the Chicago Cubs in May of 1999 with Scott Downs for Kyle Lohse and Jason Ryan. The trade proved to be greatly beneficial to the Twins, as Lohse became a key part of the Minnesota resurgence in the early 2000s. Aguilera saved just 8 games for the Cubs in 1999 as a set-up man, but returned to the closer’s role in 2000, his final season. Though his ERA approached 5.00 for the first time since a failed attempt as a starter in 1996, he managed to earn 29 saves for the last place Cubs.

Rick Aguilera retired as one of just two player(the other being Doug Jones) to have more than 300 career saves and never had led their league in the category. He ranks 15th all time with 318 saves, and 20th all time with 557 games finished. He was inducted into the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame in 2008.

Also Celebrating A Birthday Today:

Chris Reitsma, born in 1977, spent 7 seasons in the major leagues playing with the Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners. After retirement in 2007, he competed in the Beijing Olympic Games as a member of the Canada baseball team.

Estaban Loaiza, born on December 31 1971, spent 14 seasons in the big leagues with eight teams. His best success came in 2003 when he won 21 games and finished second in the American League Cy Young voting.

Syl Johnson, born in 1900, logged 19 years in the major leagues, spending most of his time with the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies. He was a member of the 1931 World Champion Cardinals.

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