"To me, he's the top closer in the National League," said Dodgers teammate Roberto Hernandez, who has 326 career saves. "The way he goes about his business, he's meticulous about pitching. He's the premier guy and he wants to be. The way he came over from Japan and jumped into the saddle to be dominant with all of his pitches, he's been lights-out all year."
Which is why Saito is a finalist in this year's "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year Award."
The "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Month Award" winner is selected by a special Major League Baseball "yellow-ribbon" panel that includes Mike Bauman, national columnist for MLB.com; Rich "Goose" Gossage, the nine-time All-Star pitcher; Darryl Hamilton, former Major League outfielder and a member of the MLB On-Field Operations staff; Jerome Holtzman, the official MLB Historian and a member of the writer's wing of the Hall of Fame; and Bob Watson, Vice President of On-Field Operations for Major League Baseball.
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 third-annual "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year Award." A list of finalists will be selected based on statistical qualifiers and fans will be able to vote for the winner online at MLB.com, the official Web site of Major League Baseball. The "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year Award" will be presented during the postseason.
The 37-year-old from Miyagi, Japan, posted a 0.68 ERA and allowed just one earned run in 14 games during August, when he was voted the DHL Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Month. He struck out 21 batters while allowing just seven hits in 13 1/3 innings.
But August wasn't unlike the other months for Saito, who has demonstrated a consistency not far behind his Dodgers predecessor, Eric Gagne. He started his career converting 47 of 50 saves, the best percentage to start a career in Major League history.
"My only goal when I came here from Japan was to pitch on a Major League mound," said Saito. "I never expected any specific accomplishment besides that."
This season he's averaging more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is almost 7-to-1, the best in the league for players with at least 50 innings pitched.
"I think Saito is one of the great stories in baseball since the day he showed up in Vero Beach and pitched his way onto the club," said manager Grady Little. "He's got command of his pitches. He'll adjust to hitters as they adjust to him. And he remembers what every hitter has done against him. He keeps a notebook on every hitter and it looks like something my 4-year-old grandson has when he's scribbling with crayons."
The 39 saves Saito had with a week to play are the second most for a pitcher from Japan behind Seattle's Kaz Sasaki, who had 45 in 2001.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.