Keith Charles Foulke was born on October 19, 1972 in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Drafted out of Lewis-Clark State by the San Francisco Giants in the 9th round of the 1994 draft, he spent nearly his entire four-year minor league career as a starter, making 60 starts across three levels. Foulke's career as a reliever began after he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in the infamous Giants-White Sox deadline day deal in 1997. This trade saw the White Sox, who were only 3 1/2 games out of first place at the time, trade Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin, and Roberto Hernandez to the Giants for six players, one of whom was Foulke.
Foulke got into 16 games (all as a reliever) with the White Sox in 1997, posting a solid 3.45 ERA. He had another consistent year in 1998 before truly coming into his own in 1999, where he turned in career highs in innings pitched (105.1), strikeouts (123), and holds (22). Foulke's breakout season in 1998 led to him being installed as the White Sox closer in 1999, taking over the job from Bobby Howry. He excelled in his new role, establishing himself as one of baseball's premier closers with his distinctive stop-and-start delivery, pinpoint location, and devastating circle changeup. Foulke served as the White Sox closer for two full seasons in 2000 and 2001 before running into difficulty in 2002. He blew his second save opportunity that season, converted five straight, then began suffering from somewhat of a tired arm in May which contributed to another implosion, this time against the New York Yankees. Despite his successful track record, manager Jerry Manuel began splitting save opportunities between Foulke, Damaso Marte, and Antonio Osuna for the rest of the season. Foulke was traded again after the 2002 season, this time in a six-player swap with the Oakland Athletics.
Foulke ended up showing the White Sox that they made the wrong move. He returned to prominence with Oakland in 2003, going 43-for-48 in save opportunities with a 2.08 ERA. Former A's closer Billy Koch was the centerpiece of the package the White Sox received for him, and he did not have nearly as successful a campaign as Foulke, saving just 11 games while posting a 5.77 ERA. After the 2003 season, Foulke had accrued six years of major league service time and was eligible for free agency. After some prolonged negotiations (so prolonged, in fact, that one SoSH poster suggested his nickname be "The Pot," as in sh*t or get off the pot), he signed a 3-year contract with the Boston Red Sox for $20.25 million.
Foulke's tenure with the Red Sox was one of peaks and valleys. His first season in a Red Sox uniform was excellent as he went 32-for-39 in save opportunities while racking up 79 strikeouts and a 2.17 ERA across 83 innings. He was an integral member of the championship team, providing the bullpen with a stabilizing force at the end of games. However, Foulke's performance declined significantly at the start of the 2005 season. Even though he went 15-for-19 in saves that year, his ERA was just below 6.00 and the saves he did convert were often of the cover-your-eyes variety. He spent a significant amount of time on the disabled list that season with shoulder and knee issues and had a run-in with the vociferous Boston fan base, saying that he did not care what "Johnny from Burger King" thought about him, he only cared about facing his teammates regarding his poor performance. It was thought that Foulke would regain his job as Red Sox closer in 2006, but the unexpected emergence of Jonathan Papelbon relegated him to a setup role. Foulke's performance improved markedly in 2006, though he never returned to his 1999-2004 form, while continuing to battle injuries.
His contract expired at the end of 2006; the Red Sox held a $7.5 million option for 2007 and Foulke held a $3.75 million option. Given Foulke's inconsistent, injury-laden performance over the past two seasons and the absurd contracts handed out to relievers during the 2005 offseason, the Sox were not expected to pick up the option. In November 2006 the Sox declined the option (paying a $1.5 million buyout) and Foulke declined his option as well. On January 4, 2007, Foulke signed a one-year contract with the Cleveland Indians and was expected to battle Joe Borowski for the club’s vacant closer job. Due to pain in his elbow, Foulke announced his retirement from the game of baseball on February 16, 2007.
Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo reports that according to his agent, Keith Foulke is considering undergoing surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow and then attempting a comeback.
Moment in the Sun
The highlight of Keith Foulke's career was certainly the 2004 postseason, where he helped lead the Red Sox to their first world championship since 1918. Foulke appeared in games 2 and 3 of the ALDS against the Anaheim Angels, saving Boston's 8-3 Game 2 win with 1.1 innings of scoreless relief and helping set the stage for David Ortiz's dramatic 2-run walkoff home run off Jarrod Washburn in Game 3 with another 1.2 innings of relief.
Foulke truly demonstrated both his dominance and versatility as a multi-inning closer during the ALCS against the New York Yankees. His role was slightly diminished during the first three games of the series; he worked only a total of one inning as the Red Sox were being beaten handily by the Yankees. Red Sox manager Terry Francona called upon his closer with his team trailing by a run with one out in the 7th inning of Game 4, and Foulke rose to the occasion. He pitched 2.2 scoreless innings, helping save the Red Sox bullpen that had been decimated in the Yankees' 19-8 Game 3 win. The Red Sox went on to win Game 4 in 12 innings, so Foulke was called back into action during the marathon that was Game 5. He pitched another 1.1 innings in this game, preserving a 2-run deficit that the Red Sox erased in the 8th inning. One would expect that Foulke would have been unavailable for Game 6, but he was in there for the 9th, trying to hold on to a 4-2 Red Sox lead. Foulke fought through fatigue and umpire Joe West's razor-thin strike zone to save the game for the Red Sox. He walked two batters in the inning, which brought Tony Clark to the plate as the winning run with two outs. After striking Clark out with a high 88mph fastball, he pumped his fist and could be heard telling Jason Varitek that he "just had to make it interesting." He did not factor in Boston's 10-3 Game 7 victory, which worked out well for the Red Sox because they would certainly need him for the World Series matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Even though Foulke only recorded one save in the World Series (in the series-clinching fourth game,) he was on the mound at the end of every game of the series for the Red Sox. He worked 5 innings in the series, including pivotal stints of 1.1 and 1.2 innings in games 1 and 2, respectively. It was during game 3 that he gave up his only run of the postseason, a solo home run to center field off the bat of Larry Walker. Perhaps the most enduring image of Keith Foulke in a Red Sox uniform is when he slowly flipped Edgar Renteria's comebacker to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, turned to catcher Jason Varitek with his arms in the air, and yelled, "we won!"
Foulke had a 0.64 ERA and 19 strikeouts across 14 innings during the 2004 playoffs. He was one of the most crucial members of the team, as he was called upon time and time again in big spots and came up huge every single time. Many believe that he should have been the World Series MVP over Manny Ramirez, but one thing is certain - there would be no 2004 world championship banner at Fenway Park without the late-inning relief heroics of Keith Foulke.
- Keith Foulke is the only pitcher in major league history to post six straight seasons of at least 65 appearances with an ERA under 3.00, accomplishing the feat from 1999-2004.
- While pitching for the Chicago White Sox in 2000, Foulke gave up back-to-back homers to Edgar Martinez and John Olerud in a game one ALDS loss to the Seattle Mariners.
- June 3, 1993: Drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 14th round of the 1993 amateur draft, but did not sign.
- June 2, 1994: Drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 9th round of the 1994 amateur draft. Player signed June 3, 1994.
- July 31, 1997: Traded by the San Francisco Giants with Brian Manning, Lorenzo Barcelo, Mike Caruso, Bobby Howry, and Ken Vining to the Chicago White Sox for Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin, and Roberto Hernandez.
- December 3, 2002: Traded by the Chicago White Sox with Mark L. Johnson, Joe Valentine, and cash to the Oakland Athletics for Billy Koch, Neal Cotts (PTBNL), and Daylon Holt (PTBNL).
- October 27, 2003: Granted Free Agency.
- January 7, 2004: Signed as a Free Agent with the Boston Red Sox.
- January 4, 2007: Signed as a Free Agent with the Cleveland Indians.
- February 16, 2007: Announced his Retirement.