Isringhausen on verge of milestone
Mets reliever is six saves away from 300 for his career
When the Mets traded Francisco Rodriguez to the during the All-Star break, manager Terry Collins said that for the remainder of the season, he would operate with a closer-by-committee bullpen with Jason Isringhausen, Pedro Beato and Bobby Parnell sharing the role.
If that's the case, then Isringhausen should be chairman of the committee. That's because Parnell and Beato had one Major League save between them when Collins made his proclamation. Isringhausen had 293.
He also had 38 candles on his last birthday cake and three Tommy John surgeries on his resume, which made his signing by the Mets last spring somewhat puzzling. But Isringhausen has done well for New York and embraced Collins' plan.
Six more saves would give him 300 for his career.
"That would be a nice milestone," he said. "We'll see. It was one of my motivations coming back."
Isringhausen was pretty much written off by Major League Baseball when surgeons took their scalpels to his right elbow for the third time in 2009. He had a very nice Major League career, including seven seasons with more than 30 saves for Oakland and St. Louis and a league-leading 47 saves with the Cardinals in 2004. There were 11 more postseason saves, a couple of All-Star Game selections and a family with a wife and two little girls at home in Tarpon Springs, Fla.
But Izzy wasn't ready to put a bow on his career and go away just yet. He hooked on with Triple-A Louisville last summer and appeared in seven games before a strained right elbow shut him down on Aug. 16. That seemed to be the end of the line, but over the winter his arm felt sound and the Mets, shopping for talent anywhere they could find it, decided to give him a look.
Why go on after enduring three of pitching's most delicate surgeries? Why keep it up at an age when most baseball players have the sport in their rearview mirror and are involved in other activities?
"The competition," Isringhausen said. "The one-on-one against the hitter. You can't find that anywhere else.
"Sure, the travel gets old, but the mound is still fun. It's hard to walk away. I would miss the game and the guys. You can't duplicate that. I would miss the adrenaline and the competition."
There is also, however, the pain. Pitchers are accustomed to pitching with it. Three times, Isringhausen has felt that pain go beyond the normal level, a message from his shoulder or elbow that there is a problem, a serious problem.
"The first time it happens, there's a lot of anxiety," he said. "You wonder, 'Will I be able to pitch again?' Now, I realize that you come back better than ever. I was throwing in the 90s the first time I had the surgery. I was throwing 100 after that."
That pattern did not continue after the first surgery. "Age and strength come into it," Isringhausen said. "I got slower and slower."
But he still endorses the procedure and sounds like a surgeon when he discusses it.
"High school kids are getting it now," he said. "It gives kids the best chance to make it. But the secret is you have to be patient with it. Doing rehab, you feel good quick and that's when you can hurt it again. The tendon needs time to grow into the bone and into the ligament."
There have been 11 surgeries for Isringhausen since he came to the Majors in 1995 and went 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA as a starter for the Mets. That was a baseball lifetime ago for Isringhausen who, by now, seems like he has a bionic right arm.
"I've run out of spare parts," he said. "The last surgery, they used a piece from a cadaver."
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.