Monday, February 26, 2007

100 Greatest Red Sox >> #59 Mike Timlin

Mike Timlin, RP, #50 (2003-Present)

24 Wins, 17 Losses, 25 SV, 3.52 ERA

In a game where complex statistical analysis is more at the forefront than ever, I’ll offer one piece of subjective, anecdotal evidence about Mike Timlin: more of my female friends and relatives have crushes on him than any other Red Sox player.

I think they like the way he stands on that mound, tall (6’ 4”) and strong, towing the rubber with an unflappable cool. They like the way he wears his red socks knee-high, and looks a lot like a player straight out of baseball’s World War II-era golden age, staring down batters with a steely-eyed scowl and a cheek full of chaw.

And they like the fact that if he enters a game in the seventh or eighth inning, he can usually be depended on to keep the score as-is. (Well, so long as the bases are empty.)

Michael August Timlin was born on March 10, 1966 in Midland, Texas. He attended Southwestern University in the Lone Star State. He began his career auspiciously in with six and a half seasons in Toronto, where he finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting in 1991 and won back to back World Series in 1992 – where he recorded the final out – and 1993. Stints in Seattle, Baltimore, St. Louis, and Philadelphia, would follow.

Signed to the Red Sox by Theo Epstein in 2003, Timlin immediately gave the team what it needed: a rock-solid setup man who racked up innings like it was nothing at all. His lead-heavy sinker induced plenty of ground balls, and he was able to dial up that mid-90s fastball with pinpoint control. Even as the bullpen was in flux for much of the ’03 campaign with the ill-considered “closer by committee” fiasco, Timlin’s role in the late innings was a force for stability. Now, as he approaches his fifth year with the Red Sox, he’s become the dean of the Boston bullpen.

Timlin finished the 2003 season with a 6-4 record, with 2 saves and a 3.55 ERA in a team-high 72 appearances — the 3rd-most by a pitcher in his first season with the Red Sox. (Remarkably, in those 83.2 innings, Timlin gave up just nine walks, the best control of any relief pitcher in the majors.)

He was dominant, too, in that star-crossed postseason, giving up just a single hit in 9.2 innings spanning the ALDS against Oakland and the ALCS against New York. Alas, Grady Little could not recognize this, and instead crushed our dreams by leaving Pedro Martinez in too long that fateful October night. (Say it again: "Timlin in the eighth, Williamson in the ninth"!)

It was in 2004, that Timlin made history. His numbers were decent: 5-4, with one save and a 4.13 ERA — but it was the frequency with which he was called upon that was truly remarkable. He appeared in 76 games, the third most in Red Sox history, tying him for fourth in American League history. He also made his 800th career appearance in September, becoming only the 29th pitcher in major league history to reach that mark.

Timlin wasn’t nearly as effective in the 2004 playoffs. Appearing in 11 of 14 postseason games, he gave up eight runs in 11.2 innings. But he was good when it counted: he threw 1.2 scoreless innings in that marathon Gate 5 against the Yankees, and did the same in the clinching Game 7 in the Bronx. He had 6.00 ERA in three World Series appearances, but did pitch a perfect 8th inning in Game 3. As a reward, he got to be on the cover of Red and Denton’s Surviving Grady book.

In 2005, Timlin made more history, appearing in an astonishing 81 games — tops in the American League and a Red Sox record. In that span, he went 7-3 with 13 saves and a 2.24 ERA. He was by far the Sox’ most reliable reliever that season, serving as both set-up man and closer. He was especially strong early on, posting a 1.64 ERA in April, a 1.29 ERA in May, a 1.88 ERA in June, and a 0.71 ERA in July. He did not allow a run over 15 appearances (15.2 IP) between April 18 and May 20, and all season long, he surrendered just two home runs.

In the too-short 2005 postseason, Timlin pitched just one inning in the ALDS versus the White Sox (allowing a run on one hit) but the appearance, his 20th post-season outing as a Red Sox, established a club record. After the season, the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America named him the Red Sox’ Fireman of the Year.

In 2006, Timlin began to show his 40 years. An appearance in the inaugural World Baseball Classic before the season began took him out of his spring training rhythm, and he showed some ill effects early on. Even though he posted 0.90 ERA in 10 appearances in May, from May 26 to June 12 he was on the disabled list with shoulder issues. He finished the season with a 6-6 record, a 4.36 ERA, eight blown saves, and .305 batting average against.

Nonetheless, the team announced in October that Timlin had signed a $2.8 million deal to return for the 2007 season. It represented a pay cut from his 2006, salary, but was indicative of Timlin’s affection for Boston and the Red Sox — three times in the four years he’s been here, he’s opted not to become a free agent, instead just reupping for another year.

As I write this, Timlin has been shut down in spring training after experiencing tightness in his lower back. Nonetheless, he’s in the mix to be Boston’s closer for 2007 (he’s expressed great interest in the job) and is only 39 appearances away for a milestone career total of 1,000.

Biography written by Mike Miliard of the Phoenix's SoxBlog


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