Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Keith Foulke was a successful closer when the Red Sox signed him to a three year, $18.5 million contract on January 7, 2004. After the Red Sox had come agonizingly close to the 2003 World Series, the team was in need of an established reliever to finish the 9th inning. Manager Grady Little did not go to his bullpen when he should have, despite their great performance in that American League Championship series, allowing a 5-2 eighth inning lead to slip out of the team’s grasp in Game Seven, perhaps due to the lack of a shutdown closer.
Foulke led the American League in saves (43) and games finished (67) in 2003 for the Oakland A’s, whom the Red Sox had beaten in the Division Series that year. The Red Sox got an elite closer for 2004 who was unusual in that he could get more than three outs, pitching at least 77 innings each of the prior five seasons. In 2004, the Red Sox used him 19 times for more than three outs. When they needed him the most, down 3-0 to the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, he proved his durability. In Game 4, he threw 50 pitches over 2.2 innings in the Red Sox 6-4, 12 inning victory. He had thrown over 30 pitches only one time that season. Over the next two days, Foulke threw an additional 50 pitches, totaling 100 pitches in three days. He allowed one hit and no runs over five innings in that span. He saved Game Six in New York in dramatic fashion to keep the Red Sox hopes alive.
After Foulke carried the Red Sox to their 2004 title, he was not the same pitcher, perhaps feeling the effects of that three day span. In 2005, Foulke struggled right out of the gate, posting a 6.55 April ERA. When booed, Foulke reacted with his famous Johnny from Burger King statement that fans had the right to boo if they wanted, that he was more accountable to his teammates. A few weeks later, Foulke lost his closer job to Mike Timlin, saving just 15 games on the season with a 5.91 ERA. Foulke did not pitch in the brief 2005 postseason for the Red Sox. In 2006, he was just another option in the bullpen.
Foulke was certainly not popular when left Boston after the 2006 season. His 3.77 ERA and 47 saves for the team are not spectacular numbers by any means, but without his efforts in 2004, it is not likely the Red Sox would have broken through, so to this writer, his contract was more than worth it.
Next: Bill Mueller