Long before there was Huston Street and nightly antacid-popping in Denver, there was Bruce Ruffin, the Rockies’ first legitimate closer. He finished his career with Colorado and saved 60 games in a Rockies uniform.
Before all of that, Ruffin was a starting pitching prospect drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies. In his rookie year, 1986, he posted a 9-4 record, a 2.46 ERA, and 70 strikeouts in 146 1/3 innings pitched, good enough for a seventh-place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. He pitched for the Phillies for five more seasons, sometimes as a starter and sometimes as a reliever. He then spent 1992 with the Milwaukee Brewers (traded there for new Cubs manager Dale Sveum) before signing with the Rockies as a free agent.
Ruffin started out as a member of the Rockies’ rotation, but he didn’t last very long there. By July he was working exclusively out of the bullpen, generally going four or five outings without allowing a run. He ultimately whittled his era down to 3.87, best on the team for the 1993 season. He also recorded 126 K’s in 139 2/3 innings.
In 1994, Ruffin became a late-inning reliever and transitioned to closer by May. He appeared in all four of the Rockies’ 1995 NLDS games, allowing 1 run in 3 1/3 innings pitched. He finished the final game with a hitless 8th inning, but there wasn’t much he could do about the fact that the Braves had scored 10 runs before he came in. Ruffin’s best season in the closer role was 1996, when he saved 24 games with a career-best WHIP of 1.206.
Ruffin’s final game was on June 26th, 1997 against the Giants, and he went out very quietly. He faced two batters in the top of the 8th, striking out one and walking the other. The runner didn’t score, so Ruffin had no earned runs in the game, a 7-5 win for the Rockies.
These days, Ruffin is perhaps best known as the father of Chance Ruffin, and up-and-coming young pitcher. Chance was drafted by the Tigers in 2010 and made his debut with them last July. He was a PTBNL in the Doug Fister trade and so is now a member of the Seattle Mariners. In memory of all his dad did for the Rockies, we wish him a long and illustrious career.