Shutting the door on games for a franchise that has three Hall of Fame closers in its history, Kauai’s Kirby Yates is saving games at a clip that San Diego has never seen before.
The 32-year-old from Lihue, is the first Padre to ever record 20 saves by the month of June and with 26 in 26 attempts this season, he not only leads Major League Baseball in that category, but is also tied with former All-Star Heath Bell for the most saves in franchise history prior to the All-Star break, and that’s with 15-games remaining until the mid-summer-classic.
One would imagine that the All-Star game in Cleveland will feature Yates, which would add his name to the likes of Hall of Famers Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, and Trevor Hoffman, along with the aforementioned Bell as San Diego greats in the saves category.
“Those are great closers, Trev is around, I get to talk to him, and I’ve had conversations with Heath Bell in the past. They’re tremendous human beings I think first and foremost, which I really enjoy, but I try not to pay too much attention to it. I have a job to do every night, I try to keep my focus there,” Yates told KHON2 Sports Director Rob DeMello.
Only one Hawaii High School graduate has ever appeared in the All-Star Game as a closer, that was Saint Louis alum Brandon League with the Mariners in 2001.
Yates is already the single-season saves leader among Hawaii-born players all-time with the 26 he has converted this season. Both League (37 saves in 2011) and Iolani grad Mike Fetters (32 saves in 1996) were born in California before moving to Hawaii as kids.
“My team needs me when they give me the ball in the ninth, and that’s kind of what I focus on,” said Yates. “I built a pretty good routine these last few years, and I get comfortable. I know when I’m going in, I know exactly how to prepare, and it makes it a lot easier, so it’s fun, I enjoy it, and I like the responsibility of going out there and being the guy to help our team win.”
Much like shutting the door on opponents, Padre fans have also grown to expect a familiar celebration at the end of each game for Yates. This season he has put an exclamation point on his saves by giving his catcher an open hand chop to the chest. When asked if they ever complain about the Ric Flair’esque chop, he replied with a smile.
Yates and the Padres return to action on Friday starting a three game series in Pittsburgh.
Kirby’s older brother Tyler Yates served as a relief pitcher for the Pirates in the final two seasons of his MLB career in 2008-09.