Despite being a natural righty who taught himself to throw left handed resulting from two childhood broken right arms, reliever Billy Wagner was the hardest throwing left handed pitcher I have ever seen pitch. He also was only 5’ 11,” but seemed even shorter than that when I was hanging out with him on the field (he was injured in street clothes) at Minute Maid (then Enron field) before game time. Billy ended his 16 year career with 422 saves, a 2.31 career ERA and 1196 strikeouts. He was the game’s dominant left handed reliever for almost the entirety of his career with the Houston Astros (1995-2003), Philadelphia Phillies (2004-2005), New York Mets (2006-2009), Boston Red Sox (2009) and Atlanta Braves (2010). To show how dominant Billy really was, check out some of these seasons. In 1997, his first full season, he struck out 106 batters in 66 2/3 innings—an average of 14.4 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. In 1999, the year he won Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year, he struck out 124 batters in 74 innings and set the major league record with an average of 15 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. He also saved more games that year (39) than he allowed hits (35). In 2003, probably his best statistical year, he had 44 saves, struck out 105 in 86 innings in 78 games and threw 159 pitches over 100 mph. The pitcher in second place (Bartolo Colon) threw 12. Billy was a 7 time All-Star (1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010). He was the 6th pitcher and closer in the Astros last no-hitter against the Yankees on June 11, 2003 (I remember being quite disgusted that day). Billy ended his final season by striking out the the last 4 batters he faced including the last 3 looking. He now coaches high school baseball. Here is his Opening Day memory.
“I think the year was 1997 and we were playing the Braves. John Hudek was sent in to get the save and got in trouble. So they brought me in with one out and the bases loaded in the 9th. Kenny Lofton came up to the plate, and hit a line drive to third base. Billy Spiers caught it, and stepped on third for the double play. One pitch; game over!”
Thanks Billy . See you in two. Richie