TORONTO – Highlights of the New York Yankees’ classy send-off for closer Mariano Rivera impressed Darren Oliver, who wants nothing of the sort from the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday when he walks off a big-league mound for good.
Instead, the 42-year-old left-hander is hoping for one last start, something that will happen only if the season finale holds no playoff implications for the Tampa Bay Rays, who are close to securing one of the American League’s two wild card spots.
“That’s what I requested, I don’t know if it’s going to happen,” Oliver said during an interview Friday. “That would be something fun to do.”
One of the most steady left-handed set-up men in the game since 2006, Oliver was a starter earlier in his career, winning 14 games for the Texas Rangers in 1996. He threw a career-high 201.1 innings in ’97, but hasn’t started a game since April 18, 2009, when he threw four innings of one-run ball in the Los Angeles Angels’ 9-2 loss at Minnesota.
How far could he go Sunday if he ends up getting the start?
“Not far,” he replied with a wry grin.
Todd Redmond is still listed as the Blue Jays’ probable starter for Sunday, and a likely scenario should Oliver get the call is for the right-hander to follow up and do the heavy lifting.
Regardless of how the 20-year veteran does end up going out, he insists there will be no thoughts of a comeback this time.
Oliver first walked away from the game during the 2005 season but ended up returning the next year. He wasn’t going to come back and play in 2013, but was convinced to take one more shot at a World Series title by the Blue Jays’ moves during the off-season.
“This is the end,” he said adamantly. “I don’t feel too bad. I think it would be worse if we were in it and it came down to the last game and we lost. Since it’s been kind of over for a while, it’s pretty much riding it to the end.”
There have been no bursts of nostalgia, or extra looks at his surroundings in recent weeks.
“I kind of did that last year because I thought that was going to be it,” he explained. “Then I was like, man, I’m actually all right with it. It wasn’t what I thought it would be.”
The closest he ever came to winning the World Series was in 2011 with the Rangers, who were twice a strike away from claiming the title in Game 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Oliver pitched in the 10th inning of that game with the Rangers up 9-7, and allowed pair of singles before recording an out. Scott Feldman came on, allowed both runners to score, and the next inning Mark Lowe served up a solo shot to David Freese that sent the Series to a Game 7 won by the Cardinals.
“It was tough, knowing you had it within your grasp. It just wasn’t meant to be, looking back at it. They beat us,” Oliver said. “You can’t point your finger at one person, the way it happened. We went to the World Series twice, we had chances. We just didn’t capitalize. It still stings a little bit. Sometimes you think about it, like man, to be that close. But it was a lot of fun, though, getting even closer with the guys.”
This season was less fun for Oliver, as the Blue Jays failed to contend, leaving him to appreciate one last year of camaraderie in the bullpen. His final appearance, whether it’s a start or in relief, will provide a nice bookend to his big-league debut, made Sept. 1, 1993 for Texas at Boston.
“My first pitch went to the backstop – I was so nervous, scared to death,” Oliver recalled. “Geno Petralli was catching, we were at Fenway Park, I was facing Mike Greenwell (in the 10th inning). I didn’t know what I was doing. I was so young. I ended up walking him, Kevin Kennedy took me out. I was like, thank God. Then it got better after that, but that first time, at Fenway Park, too, you’re just in awe. You think your stuff is not going to be able to get big-league hitters out. I came up from double-A, too.”
After he was pulled he went into the clubhouse and started eating.
“I got in trouble because I didn’t know you had to wait until after the game to eat,” Oliver said. “I didn’t know any better and they got on me, ‘Hey, you can’t eat until after the game.’ I was like, ‘Why? I’m hungry.’ It’s something I can laugh about it now.”
One of many things Oliver can look back at fondly, with one more memory to cap 20 big-league years still to come.