|Image courtesy of Dunedin Blue Jays|
For a very long time during the late 80's and early 90's, the ninth inning was something the Blue Jays never had to worry about. One man who was a big reason for that was none other than Duane Ward.
For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at Duane Ward's 45 save season. The mark of 45 saves still stands as the most in Blue Jays franchise history. B.J. Ryan came close to Ward's mark with 38 saves in 2008, but nobody has broken 40 but Duane Ward.
1993 was a special year on all fronts for the Blue Jays, and it was also a year for opportunity for Duane Ward. After waiting in the wings for five seasons watching Tom Henke notch saves for the Blue Jays, 1993 was the year Duane Ward was finally anointed as Toronto's closer.
As Tom Henke departed for free agency after the 1992 season and signed with the Texas Rangers, Duane Ward made a seamless transition from setup man to closer and picked right up where the Terminator left off.
In a realm where it's not uncommon to see four saves blown over the course of a few weeks, Duane Ward only blew four saves all season long. In total, Ward was 45 for 51 in save opportunities during the 1993 season.
Not only was 1993 a career season in the way of saves for Duane Ward, but he also posted a career highs in WHIP at 1.033 and in K/9 with an average of 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
Duane Ward was the quintessential workhorse in the bullpen. 1993 was the fourth consecutive season in which Ward made 71 or more appearances, which is unheard of in today's realm of relief pitchers. However, Ward was used exclusively in the closer's role in 1993 as he tossed "only" 71.2 innings.
Prior to that year, Ward had a streak of five consecutive seasons with over 100 innings pitched. In fact, Ward's 636 total innings pitched from 1988-1993 was tops in the Major Leagues by any reliever, eclipsing his closest competition Mike Jackson by 110 innings.
Up until last season, Duane Ward also held the franchise record for most appearances with 452. However, that record was eclipsed last season by Jason Frasor who now holds the record for most appearances.
Perhaps racking up all those innings is what ultimately lead to Duane Ward's downfall. Ward was sidelined for the entire 1994 season with biceps tendinitis and retired shortly into the 1995 season after appearing in just four games with the Blue Jays.
It's a shame that Duane Ward only spent one season as the Blue Jays closer because there's no telling what kind of damage he could have done had he remained in that role for even a few more years.
Duane Ward may have been a closer for only one season, but it still remains the gold standard for a Blue Jays reliever in which all others are measured against. We haven't seen a season like that of Duane Ward's a while, and we might never again in a very long time.
Thanks to @GhostRunnrOn3rd for this week's Flashback Friday suggestion. If you have anything you'd like to see from the Blue Jays vault in a future Flashback Friday post, just let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.