Sunday, September 25, 2011
#672) BRADEN LOOPER
Braden Looper joined the New York Mets as a free agent on January 6, 2004. When the World Series Champion Florida Marlins signed Armando Benitez as their new closer it made the right-hander available. "I look at it as a great opportunity going to New York," Looper said. "I'll certainly try to do everything to make the fans happy. I'm not saying I'm going to go into the season and am going to be perfect. There aren't very many perfect players. Actually, I can't think of one. But I'm going to go in and just try to do my job."
Looper made his Mets debut on April 6, 2004 in Atlanta during a 7-2 victory over the Braves. He was able to throw a scoreless ninth-inning in the contest. He would have to wait until April 11th to record his first save for the Mets. That one facing the Montreal Expos during a game played in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Braden's home debut came the next day. He entered to induce a game-ending double play from Andruw Jones after the club had squandered a large lead in front of the Shea Stadium fans. "I couldn't draw it up any better for myself," Looper said following the 10-6 victory over the Atlanta Braves. "He's a guy you can't make a mistake to."
In his first New York season Braden converted a career-high 29 saves in 34 chances. Finishing with 79 appearances, a 2-5 record, and 2.70 ERA. Making his two-year $6.5 million contract look like a bargain. "I'm sure if they need to upgrade the bullpen, that's something they'll approach when the time comes," Looper offered. "I can't control that. I want to go out and have a good year and them have to want me back."
Opening Day of the 2005 season saw the first Mets appearance for starter Pedro Martinez. New manager, Willie Randolph gave the ball, and a 6-4 lead to Looper in the ninth-inning of the game in Cincinnati on April 5th. Braden surrendered consecutive home runs to Adam Dunn and Joe Randa. "I'm not on the Yankees anymore," Randolph offered after the game. "There are not many Mariano Riveras around." Looper began to feel the wrath of the home crowd when he again surrendered consecutive home runs facing the Philadelphia Phillies on May 4th. This time he was able to recover and hold the 3-2 score for the save at Shea Stadium. "You've got to make them hit three home runs," said Braden. "Obviously I gave up two home runs, but you've got to just keep pounding the strike zone after that." The save was part of 14 straight he converted before losing the June 26th finale of the Subway Series at Yankee Stadium. He surrendered a two-run home run to Tino Martinez to lose 5-4, and prevent the Mets from a series sweep. "Loop, we're going to ride him till the wheels fall off." said Met, Cliff Floyd after the game. "We need him. He knows that. I hope he gets a chance to get back in there tomorrow." Mets fans were not in agreement with Floyd. By season's end they began to boo Looper as he walked through the bullpen gate onto the Shea Stadium field. The jeers understandably upset Braden, but he never offered excuses. Failing to do so even when it was discovered in late September he would require shoulder surgery to relieve season-long discomfort that had led to a loss of pitching control. He chose instead to describe the bone shaving as "minimal". Looper ended the year with 28 saves in 36 chances, a 4-7 record and a 3.94 ERA.
The Mets elected not to exercise their team option and Braden signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals on December 15, 2005. He returned to Shea Stadium in the enemy uniform for Game Six of the 2006 National League Championship series. Entering to familiar boos, Braden surrendered two runs in the 7th inning to allow a 4-2 Mets comeback. The New York fans mockingly cheered Looper on his exit from the game. "It's just something that you have to deal with," an understanding Braden offered. "The fans here are passionate and love their team."
Following a failed spring training comeback attempt with the Cubs, Looper ended his 12-year major-league career in 2011. Braden insisted on only accepting an assignment from a Chicago team. His family lives in the area, and he was not willing to relocate his wife and children.
Braden Looper signed his set card from an autograph request sent to the Milwaukee Brewers spring training camp in Arizona on March 16, 2009.