Tommy John surgery, however, forced Wickman to miss the entire 2003 season and half of 2004.
Since returning, Wickman is 61-for-67 in save opportunities, and stands only two saves shy of tying Doug Jones as the Indians all-time leader. Jones set the record with 129 saves from 1986 to 1991 and also in 1998.
On the verge of a career milestone, Wickman said the record would mean a lot to him personally and professionally.
"It's big that I reached a lot of these milestones after Tommy John surgery, when everyone thought I was done," Wickman said. "There were some doubts in my mind after I hurt it the second time."
Wickman said he feels blessed to still be playing this game after fighting through the pain that comes with rehab. "Actually, everything that I've played for the last couple of years means a lot," Wickman said. "Maybe I wasn't supposed to be here, but I'm sure having fun out their pitching."
In his first six seasons as a Major League closer, Wickman earned 12 saves in 309 appearances with the Yankees and Brewers. He's 3-for-3 in save opportunities this year. Indians manager Eric Wedge said Wickman is a staple with the Indians in the clubhouse and Wedge knows he can rely on him.
"He's had an outstanding career," Wedge said. "When healthy, you look at the consistency and the ability for a team to count on him to close out a ballgame; that is rare today.
"His competitiveness, mindset, and, obviously, his ability is something he should feel very proud of. And to have a chance to be a career leader for an organization in a category such as saves is a great accomplishment."
Since being drafted in the second round by the Chicago White Sox in 1990, Wickman has pitched 957 2/3 innings, with a 3.62 ERA, including 709 career strikeouts. He added that his success is based on opportunities.
"Every year it changes," Wickman said. "It all depends on what kind of team you're on. It depends if you're blowing teams out or playing close games."
Division matchup: The Indians and Tigers will see each other 17 more times this season. With both teams contending for the division title, Wedge said these games are important.
"There's always going to be more of an emphasis on games in your division just because you play them so much," Wedge said. "Both teams become familiar with each other and the games are such a big part of your record."
The manager added that both clubs will be in the race for the division later in the season, but also said not to rule out the defending champion Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals.
"I talked about it all winter and spring and feel the Central Division is one of the best divisions in baseball," Wedge said. "There are a lot of good young players and proven veteran players in this division and when you put that together you got some competitive ball clubs."
On the DL: Fernando Cabrera was put on the disabled list after taking a ball to the right heel against the Mariners on Thursday night.
At first, the extent of the injury was unknown, but after further evaluation, the Tribe disabled him. The move opened up the roster spot for Fausto Carmona.
Down on the farm: The Akron Aeros, Cleveland's Double-A affiliate, lost their home opener to Harrisburg, 9-6. Right-handed pitcher Bear Bay (0-2) started for Akron and was tagged with his second loss of the year. In five innings of work, he allowed four earned runs on 11 hits. First-basemen Ryan Mulhern went 1-for-3 with a double to extend his hitting streak to seven games, a stretch during which he's 9-for-30 with a .300 average. Right-fielder Brad Snyder reached base safely for the seventh consecutive game after going 1-for-4 with a double. Left-fielder Jon Van Every hit his second home run in as many games and also drove in three runs. Center-fielder Todd Donovan stole his sixth base of the season, which is second in the league.
Tribe Tidbits: The Cleveland Indians and Buffalo Bisons announced a two-year extension of their Player Development Contract. The deal ensures that the Herd will remain the Triple-A affiliate of the Tribe through the 2008 season. The Bisons have had unparalleled success in the last 11 seasons as Cleveland's Triple-A affiliate. Buffalo is 908-673 (.574) since 1995, with an American Association Championship in 1997 and two International League Governors' Cup Championships (1998, 2004). The Herd have also won seven division titles and qualified for the playoffs nine times in those 11 seasons, the most successful period in the team's 121-year history of professional baseball. ... The Indians have hit a home run in nine of their 10 games this season. Last year's longest mark was 12 games. The Tribe's .321 team batting average is second in the Majors behind Toronto's .329. The Indians pitching staff has limited American League teams to a .239 average. The Indians are averaging 3.9 walks per game this year. The Indians are hitting .325 (38-for-117) from the seventh inning on and .315 (56-for-178) with runners on base.
On deck: The Indians and Tigers will continue their four-game set on Sunday at 1:05 pm ET at Comerica Park. Cliff Lee (1-0 3.97 ERA) gets his second start of the season. In two starts against the Tigers in 2005, Lee was 1-0 with a no-decision. He yielded two runs on nine hits, with nine strikeouts. Mike Maroth (1-0 1.69 ERA) will make his home debut for Detroit. Maroth went 6-9 with a 5.28 ERA at home games last year.
Amit Sheth is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.