Editor's note: NESN.com Red Sox reporter Tony Lee profiled Dan Wheeler each day this week. On Thursday, Wheeler's revival in New York and Houston was covered.
Like anyone who has ever put on a major league uniform, Dan Wheeler has just wanted to be a part of something special.
As his career has gone on and the right-hander has found himself on some pretty good ball clubs, Wheeler has been able to flirt with that specialness. He is a veteran of 21 postseason games, including a pair of World Series, and his teams have finished with winning records in six of the last seven years.
That ultimate glory has remained elusive, though, which is one reason Wheeler is so excited to join a Red Sox squad that has recommitted itself to winning it all in 2011. Well, that and the fact that the 33-year-old, for all intents and purposes, is coming home.
"Over the years, deep down there has always been a part of me that wanted to play for them," Wheeler said last month about the Red Sox, for whom he rooted as a child living in Rhode Island. "They were my team growing up and you just never know in this game how things are going to turn out. But this one turned out very well."
In addition to winning more often than not, Wheeler?s teams have had a common theme. In the last five seasons he has spent entirely with one team, the bullpens have ranked in the top half of their respective leagues in ERA, finishing fourth in four of those seasons and first last year with Tampa Bay. The relief corps was central in many of those playoff pushes, and Wheeler central in the relief corps — he ranked among the top three in games pitched on each of those clubs.
Now, in a role that will see him come before Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks and Jonathan Papelbon, Wheeler is already appreciating his surroundings.
"You look at some of the arms we have, looking and admiring from afar at how good a Jonathan Papelbon is and Daniel Bard was last year," Wheeler recently told the Boston Herald. "Add a guy like Bobby Jenks, who I?ve seen for the last six years, and I feel like if you have guys that can go out and make pitches in crucial situations, you?re going to come out on top more often than not."
Knowing that his new team has that solid trio to close out games and a strong starting rotation that figures to go deep into games at a pretty steady rate, it might be difficult for Wheeler to get pretty steady work. Yet, he has quietly transformed in the last two seasons into a short-term guy that will fit in well getting one or two big outs in the sixth or seventh inning.
Wheeler had 68 outings that lasted less than an inning between 2009 and 2010, covering 51.1 percent of his appearances. He had 66 such outings in his previous four years combined, totaling just 23.1 percent of his appearances.
The one-time starter turned mop-up man turned setup man has been refined into a reliable stopgap that will serve the Red Sox extremely well for a batter or two or three several times in 2011. If he does his job, and there is no reason to believe he won?t, he could finally be part of something truly special.