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No league for old relief men

Al Bello

One couldn't help noticing that 43-year-old Mariano Rivera's pitched well this season.

Sunday, 40-year-old LaTroy Hawkins notched his 100th career save, and said after the game that he's got every intention of pitching next season if someone will have him. And why wouldn't someone? Hawkins has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his long career!

Between these two hearty fellows, I got the idea into my fool head that we're in a sort of Golden Age for well-aged relief pitchers. We're not. All season, there have been only five 40-plus relievers in the majors. Two of them, Derek Lowe and Jose Contreras, washed out quickly. Which leaves only Rivera, Hawkins, and Darren Oliver.

Rivera won't be back next season, Hawkins will, and the jury's still out on Oliver. Being a lefty helps some, no doubt. But LOOGYs of modest quality are not rare, so Oliver will probably have to pitch for relative peanuts if he wants to pitch at all.

Meanwhile, the crop of 39-year-old pitchers this season consists of just two pitchers, Octavio Dotel and Tim Byrdak ... who have combined for 8⅓ innings and an 11.88 ERA.

Which means there's an exceptionally good chance that LaTroy Hawkins will be the only 40-plus relief pitcher in the major leagues next season. Oh, and it's not just the relief pitchers. The only 39-plus starters in the majors this season have been Andy Pettitte (41), Bartolo Colon (40), and the irrepressible Ramon Ortiz (40). Pettitte's quitting, and it will be a shock if ever see Ortiz, however irrepressible, in the majors again.

Which might well leave us only with the miraculous Colon and the semi-miraculous Hawkins. And who would have seen this coming, five years ago?