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Looking Back at Joe Borowski’s Bizarre 2007 Season

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Being an MLB closer is very similar to being a kicker in the NFL. Even if you succeed in the vast majority of your chances, you still make your fans nervous whenever you step onto the field, and your stats are very unforgiving. When you have a bad outing, it leaves a bad taste in fans’ mouths for a long time. While some closers are able to stick with one team for a long stretch of time, most closers end up bouncing from team to team, and they tend to struggle with volatility. Fifteen years ago, journeyman closer Joe Borowski had a season that made fans nervous like none other, and it resulted in a statistical oddity.

Joe Borowski’s Career Leading up to 2007

A New Jersey native, Borowski was drafted in the 32nd round of the 1989 MLB Draft by the White Sox out of Bayonne High School. In his first season as a pro, Borowski struggled, posting a 5.58 ERA in 61.1 innings in rookie ball. He was traded to the Orioles for Pete Rose Jr. after the 1990 season. After some successful seasons as a reliever, Borowski finally made the majors in 1995. Following the 1995 season though, the Orioles traded Borowski to the Braves as part of a deal for Kent Mercker.

Borowski struggled to find consistent reps in Atlanta and produced mediocre results. The Yankees selected him off waivers in September of 1997, but he continued to struggle in the Bronx and barely got any appearances. After the 1999 season, Borowski signed a minor-league contract with the Reds, but he was released before ever appearing in a game for them. In December of 2000, Borowski signed with the Cubs, and in 2002, he finally began to find success.

After pitching to a 2.73 ERA/3.25 FIP in 95.2 innings in 2002, Borowski became the team’s closer for the 2003 season. He had the best season of his career, turning in a 2.63 ERA/2.93 FIP with a 1.054 and 66 strikeouts in 68.1 innings (8.7 K/9), while also racking up 33 saves. In the following seasons though, Borowski wasn’t able to replicate that success and suffered from injuries.

Midway through the 2005 season, the Cubs released Borowski. He signed with the Devil Rays and briefly had a resurgence in the second half, even setting a franchise record by throwing 21 consecutive scoreless innings. However, he was torched for 14 runs over his last 15 innings and was back on the free-agent market again following that season. He saved 36 games for the Marlins in 2006, but his walk rate nearly doubled and his WHIP jumped all the way up to 1.378. Once again, Borowski became a free agent after the 2006 season.

The Infamous 2007 Season: Month By Month Breakdown

In December of 2006, the 35-year-old Borowski signed a one-year contract with the Cleveland Indians to become the team’s closer.

April

In his first appearance for Cleveland, Borowski allowed two runs but closed out a 12-5 win over the White Sox. He then recorded saves in his next five appearances, allowing just one run. On April 19, Borowski came in for a non-save situation with a 6-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Yankees. After recording the first two outs, Josh Phelps chipped away at the deficit with a solo homer, before Jorge Posada singled and Johnny Damon walked. After back-to-back RBI singles by Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu, Borowski served up a walk-off three-run homer to Alex Rodriguez, capping a six-run rally.

On April 25 against the Rangers, Borowski blew his first save of the year, allowing a game-tying double to Michael Young. Still, despite sporting a 9.00 ERA, Borowski finished April with nine saves and just that one blown save.

May

Borowski appeared in 10 games in May, and only allowed a run in one of those appearances. His one bad outing came on May 13, and the rally again began after Borowski recorded the first two outs of the inning. After an Eric Chavez single, Borowski allowed a game-tying two-run homer to Milton Bradley. Borowski was pulled after allowing back-to-back singles to Dan Johnson and Bobby Crosby. Jack Cust smacked a walk-off three-run homer off Fernando Cabrera, charging Borowski with four earned runs and saddling him with the blown save and the loss. Still, Borowski lowered his ERA down to 6.75, and he was up to 17 saves on the year.

June

Borowski didn’t blow a save in the month of June, but it didn’t go without some rocky outings. In his first outing of the month, Borowski was brought in trailing 7-2 against the Tigers, and he got touched up for four hits and two runs. On June 11, Borowski came into a tie game in the ninth inning against the Mariners and was given the loss when he allowed a go-ahead double to Raul Ibañez. By the end of the month though, Borowski had converted 11 straight save opportunities, giving him 23 saves and a 5.58 ERA on the season.

July

Borowski’s save streak reached 13 straight on July 3 in Detroit. That run ended though in his first appearance of the second half, as the Royals got two hits and then a Tony Peña sac fly to even the score. Cleveland was able to give Borowski the win, however, as Ryan Garko doubled in Mike Rouse for the winning score. On July 28, Borowski was brought into a tie game against the Twins, and he chalked up the loss after the Twins scratched out the winning run on a fielder’s choice. Borowski finished the month with 29 saves and a 5.09 ERA, lowering his season ERA for the third consecutive month.

August

August was the weirdest month of Borowski’s season. On August 8, Borowski came in to protect a 4-3 lead against the White Sox in the 12th inning, but AJ Pierzynski tied up the game with a lead-off homer. Six days later, Borowski entered in the 10th inning against the Tigers to keep the game tied and promptly walked Curtis Granderson and allowed back-to-back singles to Ryan Raburn and Gary Sheffield, giving Detroit a 3-2 lead. Magglio Ordoñez then stuck the dagger in the game by slugging a three-run homer, giving the Tigers a 6-2 lead, and handing Borowski his fifth loss of the season.

Borowski bounced by converting his next two save opportunities, bringing his total to 33 saves on the year. On August 19, Borowski was brought into another extra-inning game against the Devil Rays and again failed to secure the win, allowing a game-tying single to Carl Crawford. Borowski then saved five consecutive games, though he allowed runs in two of those outings. He ended the month with another blown save, this time against the Mariners, though Cleveland was able to get him the win. All told, despite finishing the month with an ugly 7.54 ERA, Borowski racked up 10 saves, the most he had in any month.

September

Borowski began the month of September with seven straight scoreless appearances before he blew consecutive saves against the Mariners, giving him eight blown saves for the season. Borowski closed out the year with two saves against the Royals. Overall, Borowski finished the season with a 5.07 ERA/4.12 FIP, a 1.431 WHIP, and 58 strikeouts in 65.2 innings (7.9 K/9). Despite those subpar numbers, Borowski finished the season with an AL-leading 45 saves. Cleveland headed to the playoffs after winning the AL Central with 96 wins.

Postseason

In the ALDS, Borowski appeared in two games. After a scoreless first appearance, Borowski came in with a chance to close the series out at Yankee Stadium in game 4. After allowing a solo homer to Bobby Abreu, Borowski struck out Jorge Posada, sending Cleveland to the ALCS.

In the ALCS against the Red Sox, Borowski closed out Cleveland’s 13-6 extra-inning win in game 2, and then recorded the save in game 3.

Cleveland eventually took a 3-1 lead in the series, but the Red Sox came roaring back with three convincing victories, sending Cleveland home. Borowski’s last appearance of the year came in game 6 when he allowed three hits, two walks, and two runs.

Alarming Splits

You may be how wondering: how in the world did a guy with a 5.07 ERA lead his league in saves? Borowski had some extreme splits that are quite hard to comprehend. In save situations, Borowski owned a respectable 3.73 ERA and a 1.303 WHIP with 48 strikeouts in 50.2 innings. In non-save situations however, Borowski owned an unsightly 9.60 ERA and a 1.867 WHIP in 15 innings. In games in which Borowski recorded a save, he had a 1.88 ERA in 43 innings. On the other hand, in games where Borowski was charged with a loss, he allowed a whopping 16 hits and 16 runs in 3.2 innings (39.27 ERA). Hitters also battered Borowski with two outs, to the tune of a .326/.386/.554 line with five homers.

Post-2007 Career and the “Joe Borowski Hall of Fame”

Borowski’s luck ran out in 2008, as he struggled to a 7.56 ERA in 16.2 innings before Cleveland released him in the middle of the summer. He retired shortly thereafter, finishing his career with a 4.18 ERA (104 ERA+), 1.380 WHIP, and 131 saves. Borowski’s 2007 season inspired something that I came up with called the “Joe Borowski Hall of Fame”, which is for closers who lead their league saves with an ERA over 4. The most recent addition to this club was Wade Davis, who led the NL with 43 saves while owning a 4.13 ERA. While Borowski may not be a household name, he should be forever remembered for his crazy 2007 season.


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Mathias is a graduate student at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. He is currently studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism on the Sports Media and Communications track. He graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2021, where he studied journalism and served as the Sports Editor and Opinions Editor for the school's newspaper, The Signal. He joined Overtime Heroics as a writer in June of 2019 and became an editor in December of 2020 before taking over the MLB department in June of 2021. Mathias is also a former varsity swimmer and is the youngest of five kids.