Nathan cementing his legacy
Twins closer will likely break Aguilera's club record for saves
MINNEAPOLIS -- A ghost of Twins past stood on the Metrodome mound, and the man who occupies his former job was crouching behind the plate. After being honored with induction into the Twins Hall of Fame prior to Saturday night's game against Arizona, former star closer Rick Aguilera took the ball in a familiar place for the ceremonial first pitch. The man catching him? Current stopper Joe Nathan.The significance was lost on no one. Nathan, currently second in club history with 178 saves, was pulled up by the high toss from Aguilera, an uncharacteristic sign of wildness from the three-time All-Star. The fact that Nathan is 77 saves from supplanting Aguilera (254) was even announced prior to the pitch.
Nathan, however, has never contemplated his place in Twins history. He will have a chance to further cement that legacy after signing a four-year contract extension with the team in March."It's something that I'll probably get to enjoy and sit back and think about, probably not until my career is done," Nathan said prior to Saturday's ceremony. "For Rick, I'm sure it's something he never thought about until his career was over. And now he is getting a chance to enjoy this moment, and I'm sure it was something he never thought about when he was playing. It's kind of the same for me." Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who has been with the big league club since 1991 -- the year Aguilera helped the club win the World Series -- has seen his fair share of both closers. "Both are very, very good people, good closers," Gardenhire said. "Handle the role probably about the same. They don't say a lot. Joe probably says a little bit more than Aggie did, but they still handle the role the same way." How do they compare? "If something happens where they don't get the job done, they want the ball the next day," Gardenhire said. "They are two very, very, very, very, very good closers. Aggie a little more experience, but Joe is getting there. He is one of the best in the league, as was Aggie when he pitched. Two very comparable pitchers. Joe is more of a power guy than Aggie was. Aggie could pop it a little bit, but had a great splitter and slider and all that stuff. Joe can blow a fastball at 96 mph. So a little bit different in the way they go about it, but they still both go about it pretty good." Nathan didn't have the misfortune of having to follow Aguilera, a big fan favorite, as the closer. That fell to the likes of Mike Trombley, LaTroy Hawkins and Bob Wells. This isn't to say that Nathan didn't have a difficult act to follow. After being acquired from the Giants as one of three players for A.J. Pierzynski, Nathan replaced the departed Eddie Guardado in the role. "Everyday Eddie" was a favorite of fans who had recorded 41 saves in his last season with the Twins in 2003. Guardado is third all-time in saves for the club with 116. "When I first got here, it was probably the hardest time," Nathan said. "Having taken the spot of Eddie Guardado, who was a big-time fan favorite, I knew I had my work cut out for me. So it was a situation where I didn't want to be too vocal, just kind of come in, do my job and let things take care of themselves. "The relationship between me and the fans has definitely grown. ... I love playing in front of these fans as much as they like watching."
Thor Nystrom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.