Yesterday afternoon, Joe Nathan, the man who gave Detroit Tigers fans nightmares for so many seasons while wearing a Minnesota Twins jersey, earned his first win as a member of the Tigers’ organization. Nathan came in and pitched a scoreless top half of the ninth inning in what was a non-save situation. He was later rewarded with the win after the newly-acquired Alex Gonzalez drove in Tyler Collins to plate the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
Nathan was signed to a two-year deal worth $20 million this past offseason to shore up the closer’s role, which has been the Tigers’ Achilles heel ever since they became contenders again back in 2006. Over the past eight seasons, Tigers fans have suffered through Todd Jones, Fernando Rodney and Jose Valverde. Fans have watched countless winnable games slip out of the Tigers’ hands in the late innings in both the regular season as well as the postseason.
The Tigers are now banking on their 39-year-old ex-nemesis to finally get them over the hump, and his first outing was a good indication that the Tigers will be getting what they paid for. Nathan is likely to be the Tigers’ first decent closer since Mike Henneman back in the late-1980s, early-1990s, and perhaps even their first lockdown closer since Willie Hernandez during their glory days of the mid-1980s. Nathan has shown that he is still capable of being such a pitcher over the past two seasons with the Texas Rangers.
Nathan did not record any strikeouts in yesterday’s game, but he pitched a clean 1-2-3 inning while throwing only 13 pitches which is exactly what Tigers fans have been yearning for out of their ninth-inning man for all of these years now. Nathan had a few rough moments in Spring Training for the Tigers, as he posted a 4.70 ERA in 7.2 innings of work, but it appears that he has now worked out all of the kinks and is ready to put together another outstanding season.
Although the Tigers-Twins rivalry has never reached the magnitude of the Boston Red Sox–New York Yankees or the Chicago Cubs–St. Louis Cardinals rivalries on a national scale, it still seems a little strange to many in the Midwest to see a former Tiger killer like Nathan now wearing a Tigers jersey.
Granted, it might not take as much getting used to as seeing Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon or Jacoby Ellsbury wearing pinstripes or seeing Jim Edmonds in a Cubs uniform, but it still seems a little odd. Furthermore, when most people look back on Nathan’s career when he decides to hang up his spikes, they will still most likely remember him as a Twin. However, for at least the next two seasons, Nathan will be a Tiger and Tigers fans are elated to have him to say the very least.