By Gary Hill
Tom Wilhelmsen slammed the door on another foe Thursday night in the Bronx to lock down his 11th save of the season. He is perfect in save situations as he continues to whittle down his ERA (0.50) to nearly nothing.
The numbers are ridiculous. Right-handed hitters are 0 for 30 against Wilhelmsen on the season. Lefties are not much better (6 for 30, .200). He has yielded a grand total of zero extra-base hits on the season. He coughed up a run to the White Sox in his second outing of the year, but has hurled 16 1/3 scoreless innings since.
M's closer Tom Wilhelmsen is 11 for 11 in save situations with a 0.50 ERA this season. (AP)
He has been a man of his word. Since the outing against the White Sox on April 5 he has allowed one walk and five singles. In the ninth inning Thursday Brett Gardner singled and proceeded to steal second and third. He is the first baserunner to reach third during the entire stretch that has lasted nearly a month and a half. Only two other runners have even reached as far as second.
"Any inning in the big leagues is a great inning, but it is nice to get the last out and seal the deal and take the ball home", Wilhelmsen says.
He has racked up 11 saves on the season, which is fifth in the American League. With nearly half of them, he entered the game with only a one-run lead. In his short time as the closer for the Mariners he has already climbed the ladder to 10th on the club's all-time saves list. He needs 12 more to catch Brandon League and Bill Caudill for eighth. He needs 16 to catch Bobby Ayala for seventh and 19 to reel in Eddie Guardado for sixth.
"Everyone's got the stuff to be up here," he says. "It's between the ears that matters the most, I guess, to stay up here."
Wilhelmsen has been wildly successful since taking the mound for the M's starting in 2011. He has now pitched in 115 games the past three season. He is 6-3 with a 2.42 ERA. In 130 innings he has fanned 130 and only 22 hits against him have gone for extra bases.
The 6-foot-6 Wilhelmsen has been firing a fastball averaging a touch over 96 mph this season. He has the ability to reach back and blow it by hitters at nearly triple digits if need be. He has mixed in his hammer curveball to the detriment of hitters. He has also increased the frequency of his changeup from 0.4 percent of the time in 2011 to 7.1 percent this season, according to fangraphs.com.
He needed his entire arsenal Thursday night. The Mariners were ahead of the Yankees 3-2. Wilhelmsen was standing on the hill with the tying run on third base and only one down. With the game and the series on the line, he reached back and punched out Jayson Nix and followed that by coaxing slugging second baseman Robinson Cano into a harmless groundout.
Brendan Ryan captured the crucial moments beautifully after the game.
"That's as fun as it gets there at the end with Tommy on the mound," Ryan said. "For him to get behind on Nix there and throw two fastballs by him, I mean, that just shows how awesome he is. He can do it all."
The Mariners will hope to see more "Closing Time" in Cleveland starting Friday with game one of four against the surging Indians.