SEATTLE -- For more nearly two weeks, closer Bob Wickman stood tied with Doug Jones for the franchise record for career saves that only the lack of save opportunities had kept Wickman from breaking. But a save opportunity came Wickman's way here Sunday afternoon against the Mariners. He came on in the ninth inning to protect a 2-0 lead, and as usual, Wickman made things interesting. He also picked up the save, too -- No. 130, which broke Jones' club record.
And what does the record mean to the 37-year-old reliever? "It means I've been here for awhile," said Wickman, breaking into a smile. Of course, that was just his humor speaking. The fact is that breaking any record stands as a tribute to Wickman's hard work. He has come a long way since Dr. Lewis Yocum performed Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Dec. 6, 2002, an operation that threatened to end Wickman's career. It's a career that's very much alive and thriving, as his team record for career saves now proves. "It's something that I can say to my kids, maybe one day, when I go home, 'Someone's gonna beat it, but at one time, Dad did hold the record,'" Wickman said. Yes, he did, and Wickman did so in typical fashion. After getting the first hitter out, he gave up singles to Carl Everett and Adrian Beltre, which brought the winning run to the plate in the person of Kenji Johjima. At risk now was the game, and the masterpiece that C.C. Sabathia had crafted. Who had much thought of a club record with defeat staring at them? "I told somebody in here I don't get nervous anymore, you know," Sabathia said. "I knew he was gonna get a ground ball and get that double play; it was gonna be all good." Indeed it was "all good," as Sabathia put it. Wickman got the ground ball from Johjima, which Jhonny Peralta turned into a double play. "Wickman is smart," manager Eric Wedge said. "He knows what he wants to do. ... Each pitch has a purpose, and ideally what he's working to do is what he did there at the end, and that's put the ball on the ground." Like Sabathia, Wedge was delighted for Wickman, who's one of the few remaining players who played before the Indians went into a rebuilding project during the 2002 season. Wickman looked thrilled as well. It had been nearly two weeks since he was facing a save opportunity, and he stayed tied with Jones, whom Wickman teamed with during their days with the Brewers in the 1990s. He seemed to see breaking the record as somewhat bittersweet. He and Jones are friends, so moving ahead of a friend isn't at the top of Wickman's things to do in baseball. But few baseball records of eternity as their shelf life, and as Wickman said, he expects someone to come away to wipe his name off the No. 1 spot on the team's save list. For now, he'll just be adding to his lead, and he should have plenty more chances before the season ends. As a souvenir, the Indians gave Wickman the lineup card, and he also had the ball that Johjima grounded into a double play. Wickman, who now has a save streak of 22 in a row, has plans for that baseball. "This'll go probably to Chris Kelley," he said. Kelley, a former Indians batboy, is recuperating from a serious car accident he was in a couple of years ago. He has remained close to Wickman, which is why the reliever's giving the ball to Kelly. For Wickman, he'll have the memory of the moment. So will his teammates. "I'm excited for him," Sabathia said. "He deserves it. He worked hard to get back, to get back to where he is. He deserves it."
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.