High hopes in March often fade quickly in April and May. The Red Sox found this to be true in 99, when Sox pitching coach and (briefly) future manager Joe Kerrigan assessed his bullpen. He was optimistic about six hurlers- Tom (Flash) Gordon, Jim Corsi, Derek Lowe, John Wasdin, Ron Mahay and Mark Guthrie.
Off the previous year, Kerrigan had reason to be optimistic. Gordon, previously a mediocre starter, exploded as a closer with a league-leading 46 saves in 73 appearences, blowing only one. The middle and setup men had been generally good. Corsi was 3-2 with a 2.59 ERA. Despite a 3-9 record, Lowe had a fair 4.02 and good hits- to- innings pitched ratio. Mahay, a converted outfielder, was 1-1 in 29 appearences. Guthrie, who had produced a solid season with the Dodgers in 98, already had impressed Kerrigan. "He's been really sharp," said the coach…He knows what he's doing on the mound." Wasdin was, well, Wasdin, but he had gone 6-4 the previous year. Strangely, Kerrigan did not mention Canadian lefty Rheal Cormier, who had been signed in January as a free agent.
As often happens, the Sox plans went awry. Though Gordon would pick up his 54th consecutive save in July, he would be limited to 21 appearences and 11 saves because of elbow problems. His ERA ballooned. Guthrie was a major disappointment, racking up a 5.83 mark and 2 saves before being released late in the year. Mahay failed to even stick with the team.
What saved the bullpen were unexpected performances by Tim Wakefield, who made the transition from starter and saved 15 contests. Coming off major surgrery, Cormier went 2-0 in 60 appearences with an ERA of 3.69. But the big surprise was Lowe, who appeared 74 times and went 6-3 with 15 saves and a strong ERA.
Unlike 98, when Gordon dominated, the Sox had to use six men to accomplish 50 saves, led by Lowe and Wakefield. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the team's 5 principal relievers still combined for an ERA of 4.12, one of the best in the league. Given the failed hopes, how was this possible? We shall see in future stories.