No ‘Relief’: Top Mets Bullpen Busts

Let’s face the facts. Outside of Seth Lugo, the 2019 Mets bullpen is atrocious.

After another disappointing performance, I recently tweeted how this Mets bullpen reminds me of 2008. That year, down the stretch, the team couldn’t close a game to save their lives. Ultimately, folks like Luis Ayala and Scott Schoeneweis ensured the team would collapse for a second year in a row.

And that got me thinking more about some of the worst (or stomach churning) Mets relievers in my lifetime. Below is a list in no particular order. I am sure there are others and would love to hear your thoughts!

Dan Wharthen and Bullpen Coach Ricky Bones

Leading Off

OK I know I said this was in no particular order, but my lord, #1 on my personal list is Don Aase. As a soon-to-be seven-year-old-boy, I really liked saying his last name – often times pronouncing it “Ass,” especially when my parents or grandfather weren’t around.  

I personally witnessed him live up to that name in August 1989 at Shea vs. the Dodgers. On that Sunday afternoon, he gave up a 9th inning home run to Willie Randolph essentially ending the Mets season.

I remember tossing my Mets hat in anger on the concrete stairs in the green seats, while hearing my grandfather and his broken English – in an exasperated tone – lament why Aase was even in the game. To this day, the thought of Don Aase on the mound gives me reason to pout.

In 49 games with the Mets, Aase went 1-5 with a 3.94 ERA.

Franco’s Heir?  

Before there was Jeurys Familia, there was Mel Rojas. A stud reliever and closer for the Expos and Cubs in the 90s, Rojas’ decline began in ’97. So of course, the Mets acquired him that summer.

I remember his first Mets bullpen appearance – a night game against Houston– where he entered a 3-3 game in the ninth. He promptly gave up five earned runs, including a 3-run HR to Jeff Bagwell, and the Mets lost 8-3. I vividly recall this game because of the exasperation in announcer Gary Thorne’s voice during the inning and his laughter when he overheard a fan yell something along the lines of “Rojas took the wrong plane to the wrong city.” Welcome to New York!  

The saving grace in the Rojas deal, which cost the Mets Lance Johnson, Mark Clark and Manny Alexander, was reliever – and fellow Quinnipiac alumnus – Turk Wendell. Turk would go on to be a key cog in the Mets bullpen during the ’99 and ’00 seasons. For my wrestling marks reading this that don’t know Turk, think of Dean Ambrose/Jon Mosely.

Rojas on the other hand was so bad as a Met – (his ERA was 5.76 as a Met) – that he would go on to be traded to Los Angeles in exchange for… Bobby Bonilla. Clearly, the gift that keeps on giving (and giving some more each July 1).

The Japanese Greg Maddux

Hailed as the ‘Japanese Greg Maddux,’ seven-time Japanese All-Star Satoru Komiyama joined the Mets for the 2002 season. In reality, the Mets wound up with the ‘Japanese Mike Maddux.’

In his lone Major League season in the Mets bullpen, Komiyama ended the season 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA.  

The Guy with Two First Names     

I didn’t follow the American League much growing up, but the occasional glimpses of the Milwaukee Brewers made me laugh whenever Doug Henry was on the mound. The laughter turned to tears when the Mets acquired Henry for Fernando Vina before the start of the ’95 season.

Henry pitched respectably in ’95 with an ERA of 2.96 over 51 games. You can overlook the 3-6 record because the Mets were a hopeless team that season. However, the start of the ‘Generation K’ era in ’96 was a different story.

That season I recall Henry often looking angry – and lost – while on the mound. Then again, I’d probably be both too if my season ended 2-8 with an ERA of 4.68. The Mets released Henry the following off-season.  

A Blind Squirrel Gets a Nut

Toby Borland, a submarine reliever acquired from the Phillies in an off-season trade for Rico Brogna, had a miserable first appearance in a Mets uniform.

Pitching on Opening Day 1997, the Louisiana native walked three and allowed 3ERs in 1/3 of an inning. His very brief Mets tenure was downhill from there, finishing with an ERA of 6.08, before mercifully being traded to Boston in mid-May. Give the team credit for cutting their losses fast.

Fun fact

Borland’s best performance for the Mets was in front of a sold-out Shea Stadium on national TV where Jackie Robinson was officially honored across baseball. As part of the festivities President Bill Clinton and Commissioner Bud Selig delivered remarks and announced the permanent retirement of Robinson’s number 42.

On this night, Borland would earn the save, pitching four innings, striking out three. In his postgame remarks, Borland noted that “every now and then a blind squirrel gets a nut.” Indeed.

Honorable Mentions

The list could go on-and-on, but here are a couple of names that came to mind rapid-fire style:

  • Jorge Julio: Acquired with John Maine for Kris Benson before the 2006 season, Julio had a “stellar” month of April with an ERA of 7.71 in 10 appearances. GM Omar Minaya cut his losses, trading Julio to Arizona in exchange for “El Duque” Orlando Hernandez right before Memorial Day. El Duque played a key role in the ‘06 team’s NL dominance, though he was unable to pitch during the team’s playoff run due to an injury suffered in a off-day team workout. That’s so Metsie!
  • Josias Manzanillo: A solid reliever for the team in ’94, he came undone in the strike-shortened season of ’95, going 1-2 with a 7.88 ERA. Upon his release, he signed with the Yankees, where he of course re-gained his form, pitching to a 2.08 ERA with the Bombers and later finding success with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unfortunately, Manzanillo suffered an injury when he was struck in-game while not wearing a protective cup. Ouch!
  • Braden Looper: Statistically, he was solid as Mets closer in ’04 and ’05, earning 57 saves and pitching to a 3.22 ERA. However, in my opinion, I was never comfortable when he was on the mound.  Of course, he would join the Cardinals in ’06, going 9-3. The sight of him celebrating in the STL clubhouse after the ’06 NLCS solidified his spot on this list, even if the stats say otherwise!
  • Francisco Rodriguez: Ah K-Rod. In typical Mets fashion, the gold-standard for closers not named Mariano Rivera, seemingly forgot how to be a shut-down closer once he came to New York. While he earned 83 saves during his time with the team, every outing was seemingly worthy of a few Tums (or a scotch or two).
  • Armando Benitez: Do I really have to write more than those two words? If I have to, I’ll just say, probably one of the worst closers in pressure situations; especially in October.

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