(Updated Dec. 21, 2016)
Considering how dreadful a season 1995 was for the Cardinals, the performance of Tom Henke that year usually gets overlooked when outstanding work by St. Louis closers such as Bruce Sutter, Todd Worrell, Lee Smith and Jason Isringhausen is recalled.
Mujica converted 21 consecutive save chances to begin the 2013 season. The Cardinals say that’s the best start to a season for a St. Louis closer since Henke converted his first 22 save chances in 1995.
The 1995 season began late because of a labor dispute and nearly had non-union replacement players substitute for the regulars. Midway through, the Cardinals traded popular first baseman Todd Zeile to the rival Cubs and fired manager Joe Torre. They finished 62-81, 22.5 games behind the division-leading Reds.
Signed by the Cardinals in December 1994 after 13 years with the Rangers and Blue Jays, Henke, 37, was a model of effectiveness amid the chaos for St. Louis.
Wrote Mike Eisenbath of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Henke has dominated with a mix of fastballs and forkballs. As the hitters have begun waiting for that forkball, he has adjusted with an occasional sidearm delivery.”
Said Henke: “This is a game of adjustments.”
The right-hander converted his 22nd consecutive save chance on July 22, 1995, in a 5-4 Cardinals victory over the Phillies at Philadelphia. Henke worked a perfect 11th, retiring Mickey Morandini, Jim Eisenreich and Lenny Dykstra on fly outs to left, center and right. Boxscore
Henke’s streak ended in his next appearance, July 25, against the Mets at St. Louis. Brought in to protect a 7-6 Cardinals lead in the ninth, Henke blew the save chance when he yielded a two-out, RBI-single to Carl Everett. The Cardinals won, 8-7, in 11. Boxscore
“I’ll start it over tomorrow,” Henke said to St. Louis writer Rick Hummel of the streak. “If somebody had told me at the beginning of the year I’d save 22 in a row before I’d blow my first one, I’d take that in a heartbeat.”
It was a rare misstep for Henke. He converted 36 of 38 save opportunities for the 1995 Cardinals. Henke had a 0.96 ERA in the 36 games he saved, yielding four runs in 37.1 innings.
Overall, Henke struck out 48 in 54.1 innings in 1995 and finished with a 1.82 ERA. Opponents batted .153 (9-for-59) against him with runners in scoring position. Henke yielded only two home runs (hit by Howard Johnson of the Mets and Jason Bates of the Rockies).
Soon after the season, Henke decided to retire. “I’ve always admired guys who have gone out at the top of their game,” Henke said to Hummel. “Sometimes you have to look at what’s the most important thing in life. I’d like to see my kids grow up.”