Nathan's excellence carries Twins

Nathan's excellence carries Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- The value of having a proven closer was apparent when the Twins signed Joe Nathan to a contract extension this past March.

Despite having a young team that was considered to be in the midst of a rebuilding season, the Twins felt that losing a closer of Nathan's caliber would be a huge blow to the confidence and future of the ballclub.

"We've got one of the best players at his position in the game, one of the best closers in the game," Twins assistant general manager Rob Anthony said in March. "We didn't want to lose a guy like that."

And Nathan's presence has paid huge dividends for the Twins this season.

With four games to go in the season, the Twins are 75-2 when leading after the eighth inning in 2008 and that's due in large part to Nathan remaining one of the elite closers in the game. He's recorded 38 saves in 2008 while posting a 1.42 ERA, the lowest single-season ERA of his career.

Nathan's continued excellence in the closer role is why the 33-year-old was named one of 10 finalists for this year's DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year Award.

To create the ballot, the editorial staff at MLB.com compiled a list of 15 relievers who have had outstanding regular seasons. The 10 finalists then were chosen from the list by a special Major League Baseball yellow-ribbon panel.

The other nine relievers vying for the award along with Nathan include the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez, the Phillies' Brad Lidge, the Yankees' Mariano Rivera, the Royals' Joakim Soria, the Blue Jays' B.J. Ryan, the Rockies' Brian Fuentes, the A's Brad Ziegler, White Sox closer Bobby Jenks and Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.

At the conclusion of the season, Major League Baseball fans have the opportunity to determine which relief pitcher had the best overall season and deserves the fourth-annual DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year Award.

Everyone who votes will be entered into a sweepstakes for the chance to win a two-day, one-night trip for two to Game 4 of this year's World Series. The prize will include roundtrip airfare, if needed, to the National League city of the Fall Classic, as well as accommodations and two tickets to the game.

Nathan earned honors in July as the DHL Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Month. He converted all seven of his save opportunities, posting a 0.82 ERA while giving up just three hits in 11 appearances.

It was just one of three straight months this season, June-August, that Nathan posted an ERA below 1.00 and collected at least seven saves.

With his 38 saves already this season, Nathan is now the only pitcher in Twins history to record 35 or more saves in five consecutive seasons, and it's that type of consistency that his teammates have come to expect from the three-time All-Star.

"To have a guy you can rely on and pretty much count on every day, it's just a great feeling for the starters," Nick Blackburn said. "Basically, all you have to do is get the ball to him, and he comes in and does the job."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.