The new Royals club record set on Thursday, Sept. 26, was met with little fanfare outside of Kansas City. Coming a day after the Royals' quest for the playoffs ended, perhaps it did not even get the recognition it deserved at home.
With strikeouts of Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and a pop out off the bat of Dayan Viciedo, Royals closer Greg Holland collected his 46th save of the season -- breaking the club single-season saves record previously held by Royals Hall of Famers Dan Quisenberry (1983) and Jeff Montgomery (1993).
When it comes to closers over the last one-third of a century, the Royals have been blessed with some of the best in Major League baseball. Since Quisenberry debuted in 1979, the Royals have had a succession of four dominant closers. The Royals' first championship teams experienced playoff disappointments for several years in large measure to their lack of a steady reliable closer. Of course, all of that changed in Quisenberry's first full season when he helped lead Kansas City to its first American League championship in 1980. He still holds the MLB record -- along with Mariano Rivera -- with five Reliefman of the Year awards. Quiz set a high standard, and fortunately for the Royals, he also started a Kansas City tradition.
The unheralded and undrafted free agent Quisenberry was followed by Montgomery, the minor trade acquisition of February 1988 that became a major force for the Royals throughout the 1990s. Montgomery surpassed many of Quisenberry's records, including the club's all-time saves record of 304, to become a Royals Hall of Famer himself. He was the first pitcher in MLB history to collect 300 career saves with a single team.
The run of outstanding closers seemed to have stopped at two after nearly 20 years of Quisenberry and Montgomery at the back of the Royals bullpen. There were contenders to the crown after Montgomery, in particular Mike MacDougal, who posted a Royals rookie record of 27 saves in 2003. MacDougal was named an American League All-Star that season, but his success didn't last beyond that exciting rookie campaign.
In 2007, the tradition was renewed when a virtual unknown named Joakim Soria led the Royals in saves with 17. It turned out that was just a hint of what was to come from Kansas City's 2006 Rule-5 draftee. Soria led the club in saves for the next five years, including personal bests of 42 in 2008 and 43 in 2010. The two-time All-Star was a worthy heir to Quisenberry and Montgomery until a second [Tommy John surgery] stalled his career with the Royals after the 2011 season.
Again the Royals needed to replace one of the most effective and reliable closers in baseball. They seemed to have found another answer in Greg Holland -- their 10th-round Draft selection out of Western Carolina University. Holland opened 2012 as a setup man and ended it as the closer.
Beginning the night after then-Royals closer Jonathan Broxton was traded to Cincinnati, Holland nabbed the job. He went on to convert 16 of 18 save opportunities, including his first 13 in a row. Overall, he had 91 strikeouts in 67 innings pitched, averaging an impressive 12.22 per nine innings, second among AL pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched and the best such mark in Royals history. Now we know that was just Holland's opening act. This year he joined Quisenberry, Montgomery and Soria in the tradition of representing Kansas City in the All-Star Game. Entering play on Sept. 27, 2013, Holland converted 46 saves (in 49 attempts), second only to the Orioles' Jim Johnson with 48 saves (in 57 attempts).
If Holland stays consistent he will be a key factor in helping the Royals build upon their 2013 winning season. Being a closer is like having a featured role in a musical -- you're not the star, but you have one big solo that will make or break your performance. When Holland blew a save at Philadelphia in the first week of the season, he was briefly moved from the closer role. But Royals manager Ned Yost quickly returned to him, and Holland has since posted one of, if not the best, relief pitching performance in Royals history. Holland started this year with one brief off-key note but is ending with a much deserved standing ovation.
Jill Seib-Schaub is an assistant in the Royals Hall of Fame and has worked for the Royals since 2009.