Dotel began his career as an unflappable starter on the New York Mets, facing down sluggers like Barry Bonds and Paul O'Neill in crucial situations. When he had control, his curve and slider prepared the way for a 95 MPH heater that blew away batters. After going 4-1 in late season action in 1999, he seemed a shoo-in for the Mets' post-season rotation, but manager Bobby Valentine relegated him to the bullpen, where Dotel struggled. Traded to the Houston Astros for Mike Hampton, Dotel was inconsistent the following season, relying too heavily on a fastball that he could not longer seem to spot late in the game. By mid-season he was back in the bullpen, filling in for injured closer Billy Wagner.
His confidence shot, the young Dominican's numbers only declined in 2001 until Wagner and veteran reliever Mike Jackson confronted him during a standard pre-game ball-shagging session. "They said, 'Do you know how good you are? Do you know?'," Dotel told a reporter. "I said, 'No.' They told me, 'You are good. You have to walk in here and you have to feel that you are good." A vote of confidence from two such respected relievers helped Dotel regain his composure on the mound. With increased self-assurance he recovered his control and started dominating hitters, becoming one of the league's best setup men. (EPW)
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FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY
»October 17, 1999: The Mets edge the Braves in a 15-inning thriller, 4-3, to move within one game of Atlanta in their NLCS. Robin Ventura's grand slam in the bottom half of the 15th wins it for NY, but his Met teammates mob him before he can reach 2nd base. He never completes his round of the bases and gets credit for a single instead of a grand slam. The Braves leave a postseason-record 19 players on base in the contest. The Mets use nine pitchers in the game, with rookie Octavio Dotel getting the win.
»July 22, 2001:
Shane Reynolds, Octavio Dotel, and Billy Wagner become the first Astros pitchers to throw a shutout at Enron Field as they combined to blank the Cubs, 3-0. It took 132 games before the home team calcimined an opponent at Enron, which opened on April 7, 2000. That shutout drought at a new facility tops the old record of 103 games set by the Colorado Rockies after moving into Coors Field in 1995. Last season, Astros hurlers threw only two shutouts, both on the road.