Dotel began his career as an unflappable starter on the New York Mets, facing down sluggers like Barry Bonds and Paul O’Neill in crucial situations. When he had control, his curve and slider prepared the way for a 95 MPH heater that blew away batters. After going 4-1 in late season action in 1999, he seemed a shoo-in for the Mets’ post-season rotation, but manager Bobby Valentine relegated him to the bullpen, where Dotel struggled. Traded to the Houston Astros for Mike Hampton, Dotel was inconsistent the following season, relying too heavily on a fastball that he could not longer seem to spot late in the game. By mid-season he was back in the bullpen, filling in for injured closer Billy Wagner.
His confidence shot, the young Dominican’s numbers only declined in 2001 until Wagner and veteran reliever Mike Jackson confronted him during a standard pre-game ball-shagging session. “They said, ‘Do you know how good you are? Do you know?’,” Dotel told a reporter. “I said, ‘No.’ They told me, ‘You are good. You have to walk in here and you have to feel that you are good.” A vote of confidence from two such respected relievers helped Dotel regain his composure on the mound. With increased self-assurance he recovered his control and started dominating hitters, becoming one of the league’s best setup men.