With the 30th anniversary celebration of the Minnesota Twins’ 1987 World Championship this year, we continue to profile the players!
The Minnesota Twins are working toward another playoff appearance after a long layoff, something that they did in 1987 before they won their first World Series championship in franchise history.
With a bullpen that struggled with consistency in 1987, “Señor Smoke” gave the Twins a dominant arm at the back of the bullpen…
The Minnesota Twins had an impact in Juan Berenguer even having a career in baseball. Part of the Panamanian national team, Berenguer played a game against the Cuban team in 1972 and met Cubans Luis Tiant and Tony Oliva. Oliva was specifically noted to have encouraged Berenguer that his arm was worthy of being a major leaguer if he kept working hard.
The Mets arrived a couple of years later to sign Berenguer. He arrived in the major leagues quickly, in 1978, and, per his SABR profile, he learned from pitchers like Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman. Berenguer struggled to find a complimentary pitch to his high-90s heat, spending multiple seasons bouncing around four organizations before he was introduced to the split-finger during winter ball before the 1983 season. He was able to be a starter for the 1983 and 1984 Detroit Tigers teams, winning a World Series in 1984, though he didn’t appear in the postseason. His change continued to be a struggle for him, but as a bullpen piece, he was dominant, leading to him being part of a big trade between the Tigers and Giants after the 1985 season.
The Giants got an excellent season out of Berenguer in 1986, but they wanted him to be a starter and released him after the season. The Twins signed him for the 1987 season.
Berenguer was used heavily in 1987, appearing in 47 games, throwing 112 innings, with a 3.94 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and a 47/110 BB/K ratio. He was the dominant force out of the bullpen throughout the season, winning 8 games, and saving 4 more. His fastball/split finger combination was incredibly effective, but also quite volatile, often tumbling out of the strike zone.
Facing his former team in the Tigers in the 1987 American League Championship Series, Berenguer was impressive, appearing in 4 games, saving one of them, throwing 6 innings and allowing just one run while striking out 6 Tiger hitters. He did struggle some in the World Series, with his worst moment coming in game 3 when he gave up 3 runs and only recorded one out after Les Straker had gone 6 scoreless innings. Outside of that one appearance, he threw 4 innings, allowing 2 runs, the rest of the World Series. He was especially effective in game 6, as he threw 3 scoreless innings of relief as the Twins came back from an early deficit to tie up the series with an 11-5 win.
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Berenguer pitched three more seasons for the Minnesota Twins, eclipsing 100 innings pitched in each season. The Twins allowed Berenguer to leave via free agency after the 1990 season, when he signed with the Atlanta Braves, where he had one of his best seasons, serving as the Braves closer for much of the season until they acquired Alejandro Pena for the stretch run. Berenguer did not pitch in the 1991 World Series between the Braves and the Twins.
The Braves traded Berenguer to the Kansas City Royals for their failed free agent closer Mark Davis in the middle of the 1992 season. He was a free agent after the season, but no one came calling for the 37 year-old.
Berenguer finished his career with a 67-62 record over 490 appearances, 95 of them starts. He saved 32 games in his career as well. Berenguer pitched 1,205 1/3 innings with a 3.90 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and a 7.3 K/9.
Berenguer played two more seasons in the Mexican League before returning to Minnesota to pitch two seasons in independent baseball with the Minneapolis Loons and the Southern Minny Stars. He continues to live and work in the Twin Cities area, and his son was even a minor league hockey player.