There were 26 pitchers in baseball’s 300-save club before Wednesday, an elite group headed by a right-hander who had the game’s most devastating cut fastball (Mariano Rivera), another who had one of baseball’s best changeups (Trevor Hoffman), and a left-hander who threw 98 mph (Billy Wagner).
Angels closer Huston Street has no such weapon, his repertoire consisting of a fastball that rarely tops 91 mph, a sharp but hardly knee-buckling slider and a changeup that is good but not make-hitters-look-silly great.
But excellence doesn’t always require dominance. Street became the 27th player in baseball history with 300 saves when he threw a scoreless ninth inning to close out Wednesday night’s 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins in Angel Stadium, his team’s 17th win in 20 games.
Street fielded Trevor Plouffe’s bunt in front of the mound, threw to first for the final out and exchanged hugs with every teammate before being doused with a celebratory bucket of ice water during an on-field interview.
“He’s always been a guy who has had terrific command, and his stuff is still very good,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s quietly joining a club that includes guys who have gotten more notoriety for having an explosive fastball or breaking ball and doing some things maybe in a little more dramatic way than Huston.
“But he just keeps ticking along like that metronome. He just keeps making pitches and getting outs.”
Street, who turns 32 on Aug. 2, has been doing so since May 2005, when Oakland closer Octavio Dotel got hurt and the Athletics handed the job to a 21-year-old out of the University of Texas who had 36 minor league appearances to his credit.
Street went 5-1 with a 1.72 earned-run average and 23 saves as a rookie and has been a model of closing consistency for 11 years now, compiling a career ERA of 2.78 in 612 appearances for Oakland, Colorado, San Diego and the Angels.
He ranks second in the American League with 25 saves this season, and since 2011 leads the majors with a 92% success rate, converting 151 of 164 save opportunities. And now he’s the second-youngest to reach 300 saves, after Francisco Rodriguez.
“When he was young, he had a really live arm, and like most guys, with attrition, as you pitch, you might lose a tick off your velocity,” Scioscia said. “But what you gain as far as understanding the game, what you need to do to get outs, usually outweighs that, and I think that has been the case with Huston.”
Street notched career save No. 299 at Colorado on July 8 but suffered a right groin strain, putting off his pursuit of 300 for almost two weeks. The waiting may have been the hardest part.
“I wasn’t getting too antsy — like any season, you wait for that next opportunity,” Street said. “I know 300 is a nice, pretty round number. I’ll appreciate it in a number of ways, and it’s a special moment of my career.
“But more than anything, it’s about winning games, getting to the postseason. I have two-plus years left on my contract. To say it’s the ultimate goal, the be-all, end-all, that’s not the way I’m approaching it.”
Street signed a two-year, $18-million extension that includes an option for 2018 in May. At his current pace, he could join the 400-save club, which has only five members, with the Angels.
“If I finish this year strong, do my job like I’m supposed to the next two years, I should get there,” Street said. “But when I was at 20 saves, 120 saves, the mind-set was never ‘Let’s get to 300.’ It was always ‘One day at a time.’ That keeps you humble, keeps you grinding, where you just focus on competing.”
Street said reaching 300 saves gives him a “sense of pride,” not just for himself but for those who helped him get there.
“You have to take time to step back and appreciate these moments, but it’s not about myself,” Street said. “It’s about all my teammates, my setup men, the managers who have given me the opportunities. And now I have to go out there and try to do it again.”