Bringing in the Closer (to Pinch Hit) with the Bases Loaded

I don’t think we’ll see this again in MLB. In Game 3 of the 1991 World Series the Minnesota Twins were facing the Atlanta Braves. The contest was tied 4-4 with two outs in the top of the 12th inning. Twins pitcher Mark Guthrie was due to bat and his career-to-date batting performance of 0-for-79 wasn’t inspiring confidence. The Twins switched him out for Rick Aguilera, who had a slightly more respectable career batting average of .159 and 11 RBIs. He wasn’t likely to win the game with his bat, but he gave the Twins a chance and would likely have success pitching in the bottom half of the frame.

Aguilera’s path to the majors hadn’t originally been through the pitcher’s mound. He was an accomplished hitter in college, only transitioning to pitch once coaches determined he was too slow to play a defensive position. To be kept around solely for your bat and to displace career pitching prospects shows some faith in a player’s ability to contribute. This was the first time since 1965 that a pitcher had been brought into a World Series game in a similar situation. Aguilera took Braves pitcher Mark Wohlers to deep center field but the ball was caught to end the Twins half of the inning. The Braves ended up stretching a pair of singles and a stolen base into the winning run and taking the game.

Fear the Beard in ’93 Finest

Aguilera was considered pretty good when it came time for Topps to write the checklist for the upcoming ’93 Finest set. He was an All-Star closer in both 1991 and 1992 and was well on his way to a third consecutive ASG appearance. Deep playoff runs with the Mets and Twins in the previous half dozen years only strengthened the impression of an indespinsale role on the picthing staff.

Aguilera was standing out in other ways among other pitchers in baseball card sets. He was one of the early adopters of wearing a beard, a trend that would gather momentum as the decade progressed. Greg Olson, Chris Bosio, and Jack McDowell all carried ’90s grunge-style goatees, but only Aguilera and Cardinals closer Lee Smith ever took the look any further.