Salomon Torres Retired – and then Became One of the Best Relievers in Baseball

During the 1997 season, Montreal Expos pitcher Salomon Torres was at rock bottom.

He was in the midst of his worst season as a professional, allowing 28 earned runs across 25.2 innings with the Mariners and Expos. He allowed five runs or more in three of his 14 appearance, including a disastrous appearance for the Expos on July 2 where he allowed 7 earned runs and 3 walks in two-thirds of an inning against the Braves.

He also didn't fare much better in the minor leagues that year, pitching to a 5.40 ERA in five games in AAA.

In addition, he drew the ire of many San Francisco Giants fans, who continued to blame him for his poor start against the Dodgers on October 3, 1993, the losing pitcher in a 12-1 blowout that eliminated the 103-win Giants from the postseason after the Braves took the NL West crown by one game. Any time he returned to Candlestick Park, whether it was for the Giants or against, he would hear boos.

Then-25 years old and sporting a 5.71 ERA in 283.2 professional innings, Torres made a decision that may have been the saving grace of his career. Confused by his role on the Expos, who used him sparingly as a reliever after being a starter for the majority of his time in the pros, he grew frustrated and walked away from the game he loved to coach in the Dominican Republic.

Torres, a Jehovah's Witness, told longtime Pirates beat writer John Perrotto that he left baseball because he felt he was being called to do church work. He spent the next three seasons coaching, but as time went along, he would start throwing some nights, and the itch to play again came with it.

"All those years later, he picked up a ball and found out he could still throw hard," Perrotto told me. "He saw that as a sign that he should play baseball again."

The first stop on his comeback tour was in Daegu, South Korea, with the Samsung Lions and it did not go swimmingly for Torres, who may have been regretting his decision. In a rough 5.1 innings for the Lions, he allowed 12 earned runs, and was left without a lot of interest from teams in the offseason.

However, a relationship he held with Pirates general manager David Littlefield from his time with the Expos helped him out. A scout urged Littlefield to pursue Torres, who later got an invite to Pirates spring training in 2002.

"The desire to play this game never went out. I know I belong to this game. I know I can pitch in this game. My arm is still as good as ever," Torres told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2002. "All this time away from the game, I was teaching, studying, learning. I went to school. I went to the University of Baseball."

The Pirates had no idea how much this simple minor league deal would mean for a team who desperately needed pitching at the major league level. Following a 100-loss season where the team ranked dead-last in staff ERA in the National League with a 5.05 mark, it was time to rekindle the pitching staff.

They also had one starter, David Williams, finish with a sub-4.40 ERA, and just two qualified relievers with an ERA below 4.00.

Torres found success in AAA Nashville as a starter in 2002, pitching to a 3.83 ERA, good enough to be a September call-up with the Bucs.

Emerging on the mound for the first time in five years, Torres dazzled in his first start back against the Braves on September 3, 2002, pitching 8.1 scoreless innings and striking out five against the powerhouse Atlanta lineup.

Adding another six scoreless innings against the Phillies a few weeks later, Torres capped off a successful return to the tune of a 2.70 ERA in five starts.

2003 was an experimental season for Torres, who did not find the same success as a starter, but was good as a reliever.

Lloyd McClendon tinkered with several different arms to start games, and Torres was no stranger, pitching in 41 games total with 16 of them starts. The splits are telling, as he had a 5.51 ERA as a starter, but a 3.20 mark when entering the game as a relief pitcher.

2004 began Torres' run of relative dominance, especially in terms of how much he played. Lloyd McClendon put him in the bullpen to stay, but he would not spend much time in there as he became the Pirates' go-to reliever nearly every game.

Torres was called to pitch in 84 games, the first true durable year for baseball's newest everyday reliever. To appear in that many contests, you have to be effective, and Torres was exactly that. In 92 innings that year, he pitched to a 2.64 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 1.13 WHIP and a 162 ERA+, the best mark of his career, in addition to a career-best 1.3 fWAR.

His 84 games were tied for fifth with Rheal Cormier (Philadelphia) and Chris Reitsma (Atlanta), and among relievers with at least 80 IP that season, he was 10th in ERA and had the third-best ERA of pitchers to throw in 80 or more games. He had two months where he had a sub-2.00 ERA, 1.42 in July and 1.99 in September/October.

As the calendar flipped to 2005, the durability and effectiveness as a relief pitcher continued. Once again trusted late in games, Torres only appeared in 74 games but again turned in a solid year even with McClendon being fired at the end of it, finishing with a 2.76 ERA and a 152 ERA+, finishing with the most innings pitched of any reliever that year.

The 2006 campaign proved to be a benchmark season for Salomon Torres, both on and off the field. His effectiveness was rewarded with a two-year, $6.5 million extension, and if McClendon liked to use Torres, new manager Jim Tracy used his new signee way, way more.

Torres was used in 94 games in 2006, including becoming the team's closer for a period of time. He finished with a 3.28 ERA, 3.85 FIP and 12 saves in 93.1 innings, and his ERA+ of 136 extended his run of success.

Only two pitchers ever pitched in more games over a three-year span than Torres, who appeared in 256 games from 2004-2006. Mike Marshall appeared in 263 from 1972-74 (including a year where he pitched in 106 games) and Pedro Feliciano, who appeared in 266 from 2008-10 and is the only relief pitcher since Torres to appear in 90 games in a season.

This usage caught up to him, as he was not the same pitcher in 2007. Injuries persisted all year, only appearing in 54 games and seeing his ERA balloon to 5.47.

He still had one effective season up his sleeve, signing with the Milwaukee Brewers and appearing in 71 games in the 2008 season, even replacing Eric Gagne as the team's closer. He notched 28 saves and got his first taste of postseason baseball, pitching two scoreless innings and getting a save against the Phillies in the NLDS, celebrating emphatically as Carlos Ruiz grounded out to him in what would be the final Brewers win of the season.

Torres was finally satisfied with his career, and to the shock of the Brewers, announced his retirement for the second time, with no intent to come back at age 37.

His ERA of 2.64 from 2004-06 puts him 23rd among all qualified relievers, and he accrued 2.3 fWAR over this span, one of the best marks for a reliever who was not predominantly a closer during this era. He finished with a 149 ERA+ over these three seasons.

Not surprisingly, he led all relievers in appearances and was second in innings pitched during this span. Scott Eyre was 13 appearances behind him and Scot Shields paced him by 4 innings.

Salomon Torres, whose path back was referred to as a "remarkable Lazarus act" by Adam J. Morris of Lone Star Ball, recovered from his early career struggles after a reset from heading back home.

His story is one to be proud of, and while it may have been unfortunately overshadowed due to his pitching in Pittsburgh, who was not successful during his tenure, it is a story that shows what some players go through to find their niche.