This morning, we learned that Mike Timlin won a spot on the All-Aughts team as the #1 reliever. This afternoon, we honor the #3 reliever and Timlin’s longtime lefty cohort, Alan Embree.
Embree may have only been around for two full seasons and parts of two others, but he made an impact. Embree was acquired from the San Diego Padres on June 26, 2002 at age 32 because of one very specific game. That game came on June 22, the last time he pitched in a Padres uniform. It was an interleague game at home against the Yankees, when he pitched three innings and struck out seven Yankees. (The picture is from this game.)
Embree would go on to handcuff the Yankees the rest of the year en route to a 2.97 ERA and increased responsibilities in the late innings, throwing 95-mph heat. It would be the last time he would consistently throw 95 — 2003 saw a decrease to 93-94 and then 2004-5 saw a massive decline to 91-92. He’s been sitting at 92-93 since. Embree pairs this with a slider and threw an occasional changeup in prior years before doing away with it in 2007.
In 2003 and 2004, Embree paired up with Mike Timlin in the late innings to send the Red Sox to two consecutive ALCS appearances — and of course, a World Series title. Embree’s numbers in 2003 and 2004 were remarkably consistent, despite the ERA being in the low 4s (4.25 and 4.13, respectively.)
To be clear about things, Embree wasn’t truly legendary during his time with Boston. Did he have to be, though? He was good enough to stick, good enough to rank third on the relief depth chart, and good enough to trust in close and late situations. We can’t have every relief pitcher throw up sub-2 ERAs. Embree may not have been lights-out, but obviously he was good enough to be an important relief pitcher on two straight excellent teams.
As mentioned above, Embree’s velocity declined beginning in 2004. Part of the reason was to avoid injuring his arm. While the results weren’t great in ’04, they weren’t awful either. His claim to fame in Boston’s run to the World Series is being on the hill to close out the ALCS historic comeback against New York.
2005 was not kind to Embree, however. He and Mark Bellhorn (second base) struggled mightily in their respective roles, and Embree was released on July 19. He did so with an ugly 7.65 ERA, walking 11 and striking out 30 in 37.2 innings. The big knock was his 42 hits allowed coupled with an obscene eight home runs. He would sign with the Yankees (as would Bellhorn) and was just as bad.
He’s since been with San Diego, Oakland and Colorado, having his season end in 2009 thanks to a broken leg on a comebacker. The 40-year old might land a big league spot for a team in 2010.
Embree may not have gotten a ton of ink (except in 2005), but there’s no denying his rightful place in the bullpen for the All-Aughts Team of the Decade.