We’ve already made a few selections to the Yankees’ all-complementary team pitching staff: Eddie Lopat and Monte Pearson headline our rotation and Ramiro Mendoza is the swingman. Now, we move on to the two relievers with a great history in pinstripes as complementary arms, one from each side.
The game is more flexible today with relievers and how they’re used. That’s not to say that it was always about the closer — way back in the day we had the fireman reliever, when arms out of the pen came in all sorts of gems and threw multiple innings often finishing the game. Yankee fans will remember the Cy Young season by Sparky Lyle in the 1977 season, and Andrew Miller was the star for Cleveland in that 2016 run after the Yankees traded him.
Thinking about possible options for these two reliever spots, I didn’t want to rule out closers — we’ve seen that in different periods they can be more complementary than anything else. For instance, Cody Allen during that period could fit the bill if we were talking about Cleveland.
However we’ll stay away from names like Lyle and Hall of Famer Rich Gossage. It goes without saying that the GOAT Mariano Rivera is in a whole separate room by himself.
The choice for left-handed complementary great reliever is Mike Stanton.
Career NYY stats: 456 G, 118 GF, 448.1 IP, 3.77 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 121 ERA+
A contemporary of the last entry to this team, Stanton played for the Yankees for virtually the same time period as Mendoza. The late ‘90s and early 2000s were some of the best years in Yankee history, and it provided the setting for many names to leave their mark.
The native of Houston had committed to the University of Arkansas, but not to play baseball. Stanton was a fine football player in high school until he had to give up the sport following a blindside block that tore the cartilage in his knee.
Stanton didn’t let that injury define him and persevered, switching his focus to baseball, becoming a Texas All-State center fielder. At a college tryout, he tried his hand at pitching and earned a scholarship. Atlanta drafted Stanton in the third round of the 1987 MLB Draft out of Alvin Junior College.
Stanton would eventually break into the bigs in 1989 with a very strong showing, albeit in limited time. The left-hander picked up seven saves in 24 innings pitched and had a 245 ERA+. Confidence was not a problem heading into 1990 as he was named the closer, but in wake of tendinitis suffered during spring training, Stanton was shut down after only seven innings.
In 1991, Stanton came back strong as Atlanta went from worst-to-first and he recorded some pivotal outs in the World Series against Minnesota. Over the next few years, he failed to reach the high standards he set at the beginning of his major league career and would eventually bounce around with a couple of trades from Atlanta to Boston and then to Texas.
Following the 1996 season, arguably his best since ‘91, Stanton reached the open market and signed with the Yankees as a free agent. They knew that they were not only getting a steady reliever, but also someone with postseason prowess, as he had recorded a 0.67 ERA in 27 career playoff innings from 1991-96.
During his opening act in pinstripes, Stanton exceeded all expectations with a 2.57 ERA in 66.2 innings, cementing his role as Rivera’s setup man (alongside right-hander Jeff Nelson). From 1998-2000 Stanton came back to earth, but played an important role with scoreless appearances in postseason play against Cleveland in the ‘98 ALCS, Boston and Atlanta in ‘99, and Oakland in ‘00.
Stanton saved his best for the 2000 Subway Series, when he pitched in four of the five games against the Mets and absolutely dominated.
The lefty started it off with two shutout frames in the victorious, 12-inning marathon opener, and kept it going from there. Stanton was perfect in 4.1 frames of work, striking out seven batters and leaving his career playoff ERA at a sterling 1.08 across 40 games. Thanks to Luis Sojo’s go-ahead single in Game 5, he was winning pitcher when the Yankees secured the three-peat.
While Stanton would struggle in the subsequent two postseasons outside of the 2001 ALDS against Oakland, he was at his best in the regular season. The southpaw finished a combined 41 games with a 2.79 ERA in 158.1 innings, earning an All-Star appearance in 2001.
Perhaps thinking that Stanton could still be the pitcher who mystified them in 2000, the Mets signed him to a three-year, $9 million contract after the 2002 campaign. However, the best of his career was behind him, and while he rebounded to a better ‘04 after a subpar ‘03, they traded him back across town in December 2004. Stanton’s second Yankees tenure wasn’t one to remember, as he got lit up in 28 games of work, and they released him on July 1st, 2005.
Stanton pitched for four more teams before finishing up at age 40 with the Reds in 2007. He might have been followed up in baseball lore by a more famous player who once went by Mike Stanton, but he’ll always have a fondly-remembered place in Yankees history.