Closers thrive on neat finishes. Three up, three down game over. So it was awkward Monday night when Billy Wagner’s career ended with the Braves’ ouster from the division series because it came with jagged edges.
The 39-year-old has been saying he’d retire all season. But he pictured it ending like the regular season did, with both his arms extended high on the mound, having just saved a clinching game.
Wagner fell short of his goal when he signed with the Braves last winter of reaching the World Series. He came three saves shy of passing John Franco for the most all-time by a left-hander. And he walked off the field for the last time Friday night in Game 2, hunched over with a strained oblique muscle.
But good closers also know how to move on.
“I’ve done everything that I can do,” said Wagner, who went 7-2 with a career-best 1.43 ERA and 37 saves this season. “I’ve got my kids at home that I need to raise more than I need to look at records and championships. That stuff will melt, but my kids are important.”
Wagner finished with 422 saves, which is fifth all-time. Not that he’s basking in it. A World Series ring is what he wanted most.
“You only achieve something when your team achieves it,” Wagner said. “Unfortunately I played 14 years of accomplishing nothing because I had nothing to wear home. It’s tough. But I just thank God I got to meet so many great people and experience this fantasy world.”
It wasn’t the way he wanted to finish, but it was with the right team.
“This year has been nothing but great for me, meeting the guys and getting to retire as a Brave,” said Wagner, who grew up in rural Virginia. “It’s the greatest honor I could ever have is to be on my childhood favorite team. About the only other thing is if I could have sneaked Dale (Murphy’s) number on; that would have been about it.”
For his teammates, Wagner’s departure feels abrupt. They’ve been trying to dissuade him for months.
“He’s never wavered a second,” Derek Lowe said. “…I just couldn’t imagine having my best year and saying, ‘That’s it.’ There’s something to be said, I guess, about going out on top and not hanging on. But a left-hander that throws 97?”