Jan 2, 2020

Rick Aguilera: 1986 World Champion Mets Pitcher (1985-1989)

Richard Warren Aguilera was born December 31, 1961 in San Gabriel, California. In high school he was originally a third baseman. In 1980 he got drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, but did not  sign.

Instead the tall six foot four right hander, attended Brigham Young University, where he played on the same team with future big leaguers Cory Snyder & Wally Joyner. There he made the full time transition to pitcher. He was drafted by the New York Mets in the third round of the 1983 draft.

After pitching at A ball Little Falls in 1983, he was 12-7 between there & AA Jackson in 1984.

In 1985 he was 6-4 with a 2.41 ERA at AAA Tidewater when he got a call up to the Mets staff, after Bruce Berenyi went down with an injury. 

He debuted on June 12th 1985 at Philadelphia's Veteran Stadium, earning the win after pitching two innings in the Mets 7-3 extra inning victory. He got his first start at Montreal later that week but took a loss.

 After losing his first two decisions, Aguilera pitched two complete game victories where he allowed just one earned run in the two games. In his next game he allowed just one run again, but took a heart breaking 1-0 loss to Zane Smith & the Atlanta Braves. In July, he went 3-1 with a 0.89 ERA. 

On August 8th he gave up seven runs but his team scored 14 in a big win 14-7 win over the Expos in Montreal. He followed up with a win against the Phillies before losing three straight decisions. A busy September had him go 5-2 as the Mets fought for the pennant race until the final days of the season.

Aguilera finished 1985 with a 10-7 record as a fifth starter behind Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Ed Lynch, Sid Fernandez & Rick Aguilera. He struck out 74 walked 37 & posted a 3.24 ERA in 21 appearances. Rick was also a good hitter, batting .278 at the plate.

1986 Championship Season: He entered the 1986 season still the Mets number five starter, after the team aquired Bob Ojeda. Aguilera struggled at the start, in his first three starts he was 0-2 with an 8.22 ERA. He was placed in the bullpen pitchng mostly in relief in for the next two months.

He was back in the rotation in June & did not record his first win until June 15th when he beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in 5.1 innings pitched. He did a few more relief appearances and did not get his ERA below five until the end of July.

He came around after that winning five straight starts from July 12th through August 7th including two complete games & lowering his ERA to 3.94. The first win came in Atlanta on a one run, eight hit  outing over the Braves. The second win came at Wrigley Field, where he allowed three runs on seven hits in a 12-3 Mets romp over the Cubs. 

He then lost three straight, including a debacle where he allowed six earned runs to the Giants in San Francisco. He finished up strong ending the season 3-1 in September as the Mets clinched the NL East. He closed out the 1986 Championship season with another 10-7 record, posting a 3.88 ERA, striking out 104 batters, walking 36 in 141 innings over 28 appearances (20 starts).

Post Season:1986 NLCS:  In the NLCS he found himself in the bullpen again, a role he would have great success the rest of his career. Rick went on to pitch five scoreless innings in relief against the Houston Astros, including three scoreless innings in the 16-inning classic NLCS Game #6 clincher.

1986 World Series: In the 1986 World Series he was hit hard in Game #2 coming in relief of Dwight Gooden, giving up two runs on five hits.

He did not appear again until the classic Game #6 but he struggled again. He came into the game in the 9th inning with the core tied 3-3. He struck out Jim Rice & then got a double play ground out from Rich Gedman after Dwight Evans had reached on an error.

In the 10th inning, he most famously served up Dave Henderson’s big HR off the left field foul pole giving the Red Sox the lead. After the inning, he looked extremely upset with his head hung low in the dugout during the bottom of the 10th.

But as fate would have it, he got off the hook, & got credit for the victory when the Mets miraculously won it with four base hits, a wild pitch & Mookie Wilsons "little roller up along first" base that went through Bill Buckners legs. 


In the World Series,  Aguilera had a horrid ERA of 12.00 allowing four runs & eight hits over three innings. He along with Ron Darling, Howard Johnson, Kevin Elster & Bobby Ojeda came out of the locker room to celebrated on the Shea Stadium's pitchers mound drinking champagne.

After the Championship: In 1987 he was back in the starting rotation for the entire year. He earned his first win in his second start of the season. He moved on thru May going 4-2 with a 4.03 ERA. But from there on, he missed three months of action with elbow troubles. It was a big blow to the team as the staff also struggled thru other injuries as well as Dwight Gooden's absence due to rehab. 

When he returned on August 24th, the Mets were in second place 3 1/2 games behind St. Louis. Aguilera went on a roll winning six straight games, eight of nine through the end of the season. 

In September he made seven starts winning six of those games, although he allowed four or more runs in five of those games & pitched beyond the 7th inning just twice.

Overall the Mets finished in second place, Aguilera had his best season as a starter. He was second on the staff behind Terry Leach in winning % (.786%). Overall he went 11-3 with 77 strike outs 33 walks in 115 innings posting a 3.60 ERA. 

1988 NL Eastern Champion Mets Season: In 1988, he had arm trouble that bothered him most of the season, it required an elbow operation that limited him to just 11 games. 

Overall he went 0-4 with one hold in just 11 relief appearances. He did see action in the 1988 NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He allowed two walks & a run in the 6-3 Game #2 loss. Overall he pitched seven innings allowing one run.

By 1989 David Cone took had taken his place in the rotation and Aguilera was a full time reliever. He did well in relief and took over Roger McDowell’s job as the right handed closer manager, Davey Johnson went to.

 He was 6-6 with seven saves through July, but as the Mets lost Dwight Gooden to injury they wanted another top starter.

On the 1989 trade deadline, Aguilera was dealt to the Minnesota Twins with David West, Tim Drummond and Kevin Tapani in exchange for 1987 Cy Young Award winner Frank Viola. Viola a Long Island native was happy to be back at home.

Mets Career: In his five year Mets career, he was 37-27 with 7 saves. He struck out 351 batters, walked 137 in 114 games with a 3.54 ERA.

Twins Career: In Minnesota, Aguilera returned to a starting role until the end of the 1989 season.

When Jeff Reardon left the Twins for Boston, manager Tom Kelly asked Aguilera to take over the closers position.

 Aguilera thrived in that role, he saved 32 games with a 2.76 ERA for the last-place 1990 Twins in. His best pitch was his slider and he had great control making him very tough, especially against left handers. Over the next five seasons, he averaged 35 saves a year and just fewer than 18 walks a year. 

In the Twins 1991 Championship season, he made his first of three consecutive All Star appearances. He also tied Jeff Reardon's single-season Twins record with 42 saves. In 63 appearances that year he was 4-5 & did blow eight saves. Overall he posted a fine 2.35 ERA. From July into mid September, he thrived with 13 straight saves to his credit. 

Post Season- ALCS: In the 1991 ALCS win over the Toronto Blue Jays, he collected saves in Game #1 at home & then two more in Toronto in Games #3 & 5. Overall he pitched three scoreless innings striking out three.
1991 World Series: In the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, he saw action in four games. The Twins won the first two games of the Series as Aguilera, collected saves in both games.

He would take the loss in Game #3 at Atlanta, on Mark Lemke's walk off base hit. He returned in Game #6, entering a tied game in the 10th inning. He pitched two scoreless innings, earning the win when Kirby Puckett hit his walk off HR to win in off Charlie Leibrant.

Trivia: In Game#3 he became the first pitcher since the Dodgers' Don Drysdale (1965) to pinch-hit in a World Series game. He flied out with the bases loaded to end the inning.

The following season, Aguilera became the Twins' all-time save leader, finishing the season with 41. In the next two seasons, the Championship Twins were gone, the team finished fifth & then fourth respectively. 

In July of the 1995 season, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for rookie pitcher Frankie Rodriguez. He earned his first save with the Red Sox the following night after the trade, against his old Twins teammates at the Metro dome.

He finished the season with twenty saves in twenty-one opportunities going 2-2 in 30 appearances.

Post Season- ALDS: In Game #1, he gave up a game-tying homer to the Cleveland Indians' Albert Belle in the eleventh inning. The Indians won the series.

In 1996 he returned to Minnesota as a free agent and went back to being a starter going 8-6. On September 7th, which was Kirby Puckett Night at the Metro dome, Aguilera suffered a season-ending hamstring pull.

He returned as the Twins closer in 1997 saving 26 games, following up with 38 saves the next season (5th most in the AL). With the exception of 1996, he was in the top ten in the AL in saves, including four years in the top three, from 1990-1998. 

In May of 1999 he was sent to the Chicago Cubs, along with Scott Downs, in exchange for Kyle Lohse & Jason Ryan. He spent his final two seasons with the Cubs, calling it quits after a 29-save season in 2000.

Career Stats: He finished his 16 year career at 86-81 with 318 saves (22nd most all time) he struck out 1030 batters in 1291 innings pitched, posting a 3.57 ERA in 732 games. 

Trivia: During the decade of the nineties, from 1990-1998, he was in the top ten in saves every year, with the exception of 1996. He was one of the AL's best closers in that decade, in the top three with the most saves, four of those years. At the tome of his retirement he was 8th all time in saves.

Family: Aguilera & his wife Sherry have been married since 1988. They are devout Christians & have three children.

Retirement: Aguilera was a baseball coach at Santa Fe Christian Schools in Solana Beach, California from 2001-2007.

Honors: Rick has returned to the Mets Family many times, recently with the 30th Anniversary reunion of the 1986 World Champion team in 2016. He was with the team on their 25th Anniversary celebration as well. 

He is also a member of the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame. He has attended Anniversaries to honor the 1991 Championship team as well as all time Twins teams.

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