From 2002-2008, relief pitcher Brian Fuentes saved 115 games for the Colorado Rockies. Those numbers include the 2007 season when he closed out 20 games before surrendering the role to Manuel Corpas and serving as a lock-down setup man for the famed Rocktober sprint to a National League pennant and World Series appearance. He made multiple all-star games and sustained success at altitude as well as anybody in the team’s history. With Fuentes announcing his retirement earlier this week, it is only appropriate to take a moment and remember his time in the purple pinstripes.
Remembering Fuentes is not as simple as declaring him one of their best pitchers and moving on. His success always baffled me. It is hard to imagine a pitcher whose style was described as “shot putting the ball,” “throwing frisbees,” or a “t-rex flinging a pizza” as a guy who saved over 100 games in any setting, let alone Coors Field. The success that Fuentes did enjoy as a closer was a testament to the importance of throwing strikes, keeping the ball low, and hiding the ball from hitters. He showed that it is possible for a pitcher who is not overpowering to be efficient and successful at altitude. A t-rex’s pizza-flinging throwing motion might not be pretty, but it certainly is deceptive.
I don’t know if it is something about Fuentes specifically or if it is just the unreasonable standards to which closers are held in general, but many of my memories of watching him pitch felt torturous. I remember the painstaking moments as much as the glorious moments. The fact that Fuentes did not throw 98 mph and relied on deception to succeed meant that his mistakes, such as the one he made to Mike Lowell in the World Series, got hit extra hard and extra far. It probably is not fair to remember him for those low moments, but I can’t help it.
I also want to know more about his necklace. Seriously, what’s up with that?
Most recently, Fuentes was with the Oakland A’s to start 2012, was released, and then signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was only with the Cardinals for 6 appearances before requesting a leave from the team to deal with family issues. It appears that his time away made it clear to him that it was time for him to retire from the game. For that, we wish him nothing with the best.
As for my inability to focus on the positive accomplishments of his tenure in Colorado, hopefully the passage of time will make the heart grow fonder.