Jason Isringhausen was one of three members of Generation K, the triumvirate of young pitchers who were supposed to be the ’90s version of Seaver, Koosman and Matlack. Isringhausen had the most success after his initial call-up to the majors in 1995, going 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA in 14 starts.
However, injuries took their toll on Izzy and he was dealt to Oakland at the trade deadline in 1999 for reliever Billy Taylor. Taylor’s career with the Mets lasted all of 18 games, as his 8.10 ERA probably had something to do with the length of his stay in New York. Meanwhile, Isringhausen went on to become an All-Star closer with the Athletics and Cardinals, saving 293 games over the course of his career.
Had Isringhusen stayed in New York as a reliever (he picked up one save for the Mets in 1999), perhaps Mets fans would never have been subjected to watching Armando Benitez, Braden Looper or Luis Ayala putting the BS in Blown Save. However, that was then and this is 2011, a year that has brought Izzy’s baseball odyssey back to New York.
This has happened before, when a pitcher who made a splash with the Mets went elsewhere, made the postseason repeatedly, including a World Series championship, and then came back at the end of his career in an attempt to close out his career where it all began.
David Cone pitched for the Mets from 1987-1992 and had some of the best seasons of his career in Flushing. But after being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for the underachieving Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson (whose sole claim to fame was hitting a grand slam off John Smoltz in 1994 that preceded a bench-clearing brawl when Smoltz intentionally hit mighty mite John Cangelosi with his next pitch), Cone had his greatest success in the majors. He won the Cy Young Award in 1994 with Kansas City, threw a perfect game as a member of the Yankees in 1999 and won a total of five World Series rings (one with Toronto in 1992 and four with the Yankees in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2000). He then came back to the Mets in 2003 and surprised everyone by making the team out of Spring Training. However, his comeback was short-lived, as he went 1-3 with a 6.50 in five games (four starts).
Jason Isringhausen, on the other hand, pitched for the Mets from 1995-1999 before his trade to Oakland in July of 1999. Because of the trade, he missed out on the Mets’ first playoff appearance in 11 years. But beginning the following year (2000), Isringhausen would become a staple in the playoffs.
In 2000, the A’s won the AL West and in 2001, Oakland made the playoffs as a 102-win wild card team. After signing with the Cardinals as a free agent, Izzy helped St. Louis win the NL Central division title in 2002. The Cardinals failed to make the playoffs in 2003, but then won three straight division titles, winning the National League pennant in 2004 and the World Series in 2006.
Injuries took their toll on Isringhausen following his last successful season as the Cardinals’ closer (2007) and he required Tommy John surgery in June of 2009, while a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Now Isringhausen is back on the Mets, and he is impressing the coaching staff to the point where he might pull a David Cone and make the team out of Spring Training. Mets’ pitching coach Dan Warthen has monitored Isringhausen closely in camp and had this to offer on his progress:
“I’ve seen a lot more than I expected at any time. The ball is coming out of his hand great. He still has the Izzy curveball, and he’s added a nice little cutter and changeup. I couldn’t be more pleased. If Izzy can come in and continue to do exactly what he’s doing right now, he is a major part of this.”
If Isringhausen does make the team, he may be wearing his old No. 44 (which symbolizes the fact that he was a 44th round draft pick in 1991). Right now, Jason Bay is currently wearing the number, but he has only worn it since being traded from the Pirates to the Red Sox in 2008. When Bay was making a name for himself in Pittsburgh, he wore No. 38. Although he hasn’t said that he will go back to wearing his old number with the Pirates (currently new acquisition Chris Capuano is the wearer of No. 38), he has said that he would gladly give up No. 44 to Isringhausen:
“I’ve tried to hit against him and I know how good he is. I hope he makes it because he’s a great pitcher and he’ll make our team better. And if he does, I’m giving him the shirt. It’s his. I want him to have it.”
David Cone tried to recapture some of his old magic when he broke camp with the Mets in 2003 after not pitching in the major leagues in 2002. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t able to come back successfully. Jason Isringhausen didn’t pitch in the majors in 2010 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Will Izzy be able to make the team and succeed in the bullpen? If so, the Mets might have found lightning in a bottle.
There are less than five weeks to go until Opening Day. If there is something left in Izzy’s tank, now is the time to prove that he is still capable of helping a big league team. With the departure of Pedro Feliciano and Hisanori Takahashi, the Mets are going to need all the help they can get in the bullpen. Jason Isringhausen might be one of those relievers, and if he is, lightning will have indeed struck twice for Izzy in New York.