Aguilera was summoned by the Mets from AAA when Bruce Berenyi went down with an injury in 1985; as the Mets' fifth starter, he went 10-7 each of his first two years at Shea. He pitched three innings of scoreless relief in the Mets' dramatic 16-inning LCS clincher over the Astros in 1986, but was hit hard in Game Two of the World Series in relief of loser Dwight Gooden. Aguilera also surrendered two tenth-inning runs in Game Six, but was the winning pitcher after the Mets' spectacular three-run comeback in the bottom of the inning.
His best season as a starter, an 11-3 mark in 1987, was interrupted by three months on the DL in the middle of the year. An elbow operation kept Aguilera out for most of 1988, and David Cone took his place in the rotation. Aguilera was used in relief in 1989 and, throwing harder than previously, he soon won the righthanded closer role from Roger McDowell. Dealt to the Twins in mid-season with David West, Tim Drummond and Kevin Tapani in the five-man package that brought Frank Viola to the Mets, Aguilera returned to a starting role until the end of the season.
But it was in the bullpen that Aguilera would prove his worth to the Twins. Asked to replace Jeff Reardon as closer when the veteran fireman left for Boston as a free-agent after the 1989 season, Aguilera saved 32 games for the last-place Twins. His 2.76 ERA was the lowest of any Minnesota pitcher with more than five appearances; in 75 innings of work, he walked just 17 batters. Even as a starter, the right-hander had displayed exceptional control; his deadliest pitch was a nasty slider, especially effective against left-handed batters. In the bullpen, Aguilera came to rely mainly on a good, sinking fastball and an above-average splitter. Over the next five seasons, Aguilera averaged 35 saves and just under 18 walks a year.
In 1991, Aguilera tied Reardon's single-season club record with 42 saves, adding five in the postseason as the Twins won their second World Series title in four years. In July, he made the first of three consecutive All-Star appearances. The following season, Aguilera passed Ron Davis to become the Twins' all-time save leader, finishing the season with 41.
Over the next few years, the aging Twins slipped into the AL cellar and team management tried to move him to a contender. Aguilera's multi-million-dollar salary was hard to justify for a second-division club, despite another solid season (23 saves, with just seven unintentional walks) in 1994. On July 6, just hours before he would have become a ten-and-five player (having spent ten years in the majors and five with the same team, Aguilera would be have been able to veto any transaction) Minnesota sent him to Boston in exchange for rookie pitcher Frankie Rodriguez.
Replacing an inconsistent committee of closers, Aguilera earned his first save with the Red Sox the following night against his former club at the Metrodome. He finished the season with twenty saves in twenty-one opportunities (giving him 32 saves overall) but gave up a game-tying homer to the Indians' Albert Belle in the eleventh inning of Game One of the AL Division Series. It was Aguilera's only appearance as Cleveland swept Boston in three games.
A free agent after the season, Aguilera fielded lucrative offers from various contenders but chose to return to Minnesota with a three-year, $9 million contract. Faced with a dearth of reliable starters, manager Tom Kelly moved Aguilera back to the rotation in spring training. Aguilera missed the first two weeks of the season thanks to an arm injury aggravated while lifting a suitcase; even after recovering, he found it hard to re-adjust to a starting role. He finished the year with a respectable 8-6 record but posted an unimpressive 5.42 ERA. On September 7 (Kirby Puckett Night at the Metrodome) Aguilera suffered a season-ending hamstring pull.
Concerns about his durability forced Aguilera back to the bullpen at the start of the 1997 season. He ended up serving as the team's closer for the entire season, saving 26 games. In 1998, he tacked on 38 saves despite a 4.24 ERA and mid-season rumors that he would be traded to a contender for the stretch drive. In fact, it wasn't until the following May that he was dealt -- to the Chicago Cubs, for two minor-leaguers. Aguilera spent his final two seasons with the Cubs, calling it quits after a 29-save season in 2000.
Aguilera hit .278 in his first major league season and was used as a pinch-hitter, most notably in Game Three of the 1991 Fall Classic, when he became the first pitcher since Don Drysdale (in 1965) to pinch-hit in a World Series game. Facing the Braves' Jim Clancy, Aguilera flied out with the bases loaded to end the 12th and eventually lost the game in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single by Mark Lemke. He was a third baseman at Brigham Young University, where he played on the same team with Cory Snyder, Wally Joyner, and Scott Nielsen. (SH/JGR)
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»July 19, 1986: Mets players Ron Darling, Tim Teufel, Bob Ojeda, and Rick Aguilera are arrested following an early-morning fight with off-duty police officers working as security guards outside a Houston bar, but are all released in time for their Astros game that evening. On January 26th Darling and Teufel will be fined $200 while charges against Ojeda and Aguilera will be dropped.
»July 22, 1986:
The Mets win a crazy five-hour marathon with the Reds in 14 innings, winning 6–3 (as recalled by Bill Deane). Setting the tone, Darryl Strawberry is ejected after arguing a called 3rd strike in the 5th. In the 9th, Howard Johnson inadvertently kicks the ball after Reds C Bo Diaz drops a third strike. Johnson runs out of the baseline and is hit in the back with the throw from pitcher Ron Robinson. Reds coach Billy DeMars is ejected for arguing the safe call. The Mets, down 3–1, with two out, tie the game when Dave Parker who drops a routine fly ball. In the 10th, Davey Johnson sends in pitcher Rick Aguilera to hit for pitcher Doug Sisk. Aguilera walks, but is stranded. In the Reds 10th, pinch-runner Eric Davis steals 2B and 3B, bumping into Ray Knight. Knight decks Davis and both benches empty. Knight, Davis, Kevin Mitchell and Mario Soto are ejected. Gary Carter moves to 3B, McDowell comes in to pitch, and Orosco moves from the mound to RF. With two out and a runner on 2B in the 11th, Orosco returns to pitch, McDowell moves to LF, and Mookie Wilson shifts to right. Rose protests when Orosco is permitted eight warm-up pitches. Orosco whiffs Max Venable to end the inning. In the 12th, The Mets are forced to lead off the inning with Orosco and McDowell, and go down in order. McDowell returns to pitch in the 13th and gets Tony Perez to fly to Orosco in right. Howard Johnson belts a three-run homer in the 14th and McDowell retires the side in order.
»June 25, 1989: In a first in the National League, the Mets' defense does not record a single assist in a 5–1 win over Philadelphia, tying the major-league record set by the Yanks in July 4, 1945. New York pitchers retire the Phillies on 13 strikeouts, 12 fly outs, and two ground balls to 1B. Sid Fernandez is the winner, with Rick Aguilera tossing an inning of relief.
»July 30, 1989: Mark Grace belts a 2-out 3-run homer, off Rick Aguilera, to give the Cubs a 6–4 win over the Mets. Les Lancaster is the winner as the Cubs sweep three from the Mets.
»July 31, 1989: The Twins trade American League Cy Young Award winner Frank Viola to the Mets for five players, including pitchers Rick Aguilera, David West and minor leaguer Kevin Tapani. Viola is the first Cy Young Award winner to be traded during the following season. Tapani will blossom into a Cy Young Award contender in 1991.
»October 13, 1991: Minnesota advances to the World Series for the 2nd time in three years with a come-from-behind 8-5 win over Toronto. ALCS MVP Kirby Puckett leads the way with a homer in the 1st and a single to break a 5-5 tie in the 8th. Rick Aguilera gains his 3rd save of the series as reliever David West notches the win.
»June 11, 1996: The Mariners make Rick Aguilera's 2nd start of the season a disaster by rocking him for 10 runs and 10 hits in 3+ innings. Dan Wilson has five of the M's 24 hits as Seattle wins over host Minnesota, 18–8. Joey Cora and Alex Rodriguez each have four hits to back Bob Wells (6–1).
»May 14, 1997:
In Minneapolis, New York's Paul O'Neill ties the score with an RBI double in the ninth, then homers in the 12th inning to lead the Yankees to a 6–5 win over the Twins. O'Neill doubles off Rick Aguilera, and hit his seventh homer of the season off Eddie Guardado. O'Neill also makes an error, his 2nd in six days: he had gone 235 straight games without an error. Tino Martinez adds his 16th homer, as Brian Boehringer (2-2) pitches one inning for the win.
»May 21, 1999: In a long rumored move, the Twins finally trade Rick Aguilera, along with minor league P Scott Downs, to the Cubs for minor league pitchers Jason Ryan and Kyle Lohse. Tomorrow, Cubs reliever Rod Beck undergoes arthroscopic surgery on his elbow.
»June 2, 2000: The Cubs defeat the Tigers, 2-0, as Rick Aguilera picks up the 300th save of his career.