An imposing 6’5″ right-hander who threw in the high 90’s, Alfonseca took over as the Marlins’ closer after the club’s mid-season trade of Matt Mantei in 1999. Alfonseca was born with six fingers and toes on each hand and foot, an oddity that led his teammates to nickname him “Pulpo” — Spanish for octopus. When the Marlins clinched a playoff spot in 1997, manager Jim Leyland jokingly asked Alfonseca to “give him six”.
The native Dominican struggled to keep his weight down his first two seasons in the major leagues and gained a reputation as a player who wasn’t focused or serious enough to fulfill his potential. But losing 35 pounds before the 1999 season helped him to pitch effectively as a setup man for Mantei, and when Florida traded their stopper to Arizona just prior to the All Star break Alfonseca made the most of the opportunity by saving 21 games in 23 tries the rest of the way.
Although he continued to record unusually high hit totals and unusually low strikeout numbers for a closer (he relied more on the sinking motion of his fastball and slider to produce ground-ball outs) Alfonseca led the National League with 45 saves in 2000, blowing just four chances while posting a 5-6 record with a 4.24 ERA.
During the season, his expressive antics were criticized by Mets reliever John Franco, but Alfonseca remained unapologetic. “I’m always angry in the ninth inning, very angry,” he told a Florida paper in July. When the bullpen door opens and lets me out, I’m like a snorting bull or ox you see in the rodeo. This game is over. This game is mine.”