It’s surprising how quickly Francisco Rodriguez’s record-setting 2008 season has faded from the collective consciousness of Angels’ fans.
Maybe it’s because Rodriguez was gone soon after setting it, departing as a free agent to the New York Mets. Maybe it’s because of Rodriguez’s behavior since, which included being arrested for assault after attacking his children’s grandfather at Citi Field last August.
Or, maybe it’s because people simply don’t respect the save statistic as much as many of baseball’s older records.
But for a franchise that’s only 50 years old and doesn’t hold many appreciable major-league records (Nolan Ryan’s modern-era strikeout mark from 1973 stands out), it was a milestone year. Rodriguez blew away the previous single-season save mark set 18 years earlier by Bobbie Thigpen, eclipsing it by five.
He didn’t do it in quite the spectacular fashion of 2002, the year he arrived as a 20-year-old rookie with an electric fastball and a slider that embarrassed respected hitters. But the Angels gave Rodriguez an extraordinary 69 save opportunities and he only blew seven of them.
The Angels had a strong team that year and Rodriguez started fast, recording his 35th save by the All-Star break, a record. He set the Angels’ single-season record by Aug. 20 and had 50 saves by Aug. 24. No one had gotten to that round number since Mariano Rivera in 2004. At 26, he was the youngest reliever ever to notch 50 saves.
The day the Angels clinched the AL West, Sept. 10, against the New York Yankees, Rodriguez saved his 56th game, putting him just one behind Thigpen. He tied him the next night, against the Seattle Mariners, then set the record two days later against Seattle.
Voters weren’t particularly impressed. Rodriguez finished third in AL Cy Young balloting and sixth in MVP voting. It was a record that produced a collective sigh from the baseball-watching public, perhaps, but it was a record nonetheless.
This story is part of an occasional series of Angels Moments which, when it's complete, will -- we hope -- add up to 50. The Angels are celebrating their 50th anniversary this season. These are not intended to be an exhaustive list, but simply an assembly of scenes and anecdotes that are part of the team's colorful past.