Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
When choosing our Motor City Bengals All-Time Detroit Tigers team, we made a distinction between relief pitcher and closer. Next week, we’ll choose our all-time closer, but this week we look at the Tigers all-time relief pitcher/non-closer.
And that honor belongs to Aurelio Alejandro Lopez Rios–or more simply Aurelio Lopez.
To be fair, Lopez did technically close games from time-to-time, in fact some years he served as the Tigers’ primary closer. Back when Senior Smoke pitched, the closer was not as defined and he usually went two to three innings, instead of today’s one inning. Lopez was the set-up man for Willie Hernandez during the 1984 season, posting a 10-1 record with 14 saves 2.94 ERA.
Lopez broke into the major leagues with the Kansas City Royals in 1974, but left America for his native Mexico where he pitched until the St. Louis Cardinals purchased his contract in 1978. He spent a rather nondescript year with the Cardinals before being traded to the Tigers prior to the 1979 season.
Lopez found himself in those early years in Detroit. He posted double-digit wins and 21 saves in both 1979 and 1980. During Spring Training 1982, he suffered shoulder problems and spent most of the season in the Tigers’ AAA affiliate in Evansville, Indiana. Not long after receiving a September call-up, Lopez decided to retire and move back to Mexico, but reversed course before the 1983 season.
He was back in top form in ’83, posting a 2.81 ERA with 18 saves. After a terrific regular season, Lopez pitched six scoreless innings over three games in the ALCS and World Series.
He regressed in 1985 (as did most of the Tigers who regressed a lot after winning 104 games and the World Series in ’84), and was granted free agency. Lopez finished his major league career with two years in Houston in 1986 and 1987.
Sadly, this member of the All-Time Detroit Tigers team met his demise at an early age in a car accident on his 44th birthday.
Honorable mention for this position goes to John Hiller and Harry Covelski.