SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Giants first-base coach Luis Pujols suggested to Robb Nen that he try to stage a comeback left-handed.

“No!” San Francisco’s franchise saves leader said immediately.

The Giants honored their beloved closer Saturday, five months after he announced his difficult decision to retire when he failed to recover from three surgeries on his troublesome right shoulder. Nen underwent countless hours of rehabilitation to try to return, but ultimately called it quits with 314 saves to his name.

Nen received a long standing ovation as his signature song – “Smoke on the Water” – blared from the SBC Park sound system. Highlights of him pitching were shown on the main center-field scoreboard.

St. Louis outfielder Reggie Sanders, a teammate of Nen’s on the Giants’ 2002 World Series team, clapped from the Cardinals dugout. Giants players watched the ceremony from the infield. Nen, accompanied by his wife and two daughters, even made his exit in a San Francisco fire truck, waving at fans before the game.

The Giants also presented him with a new golf cart that plays his tune.

The 35-year-old Nen, who had 43 saves and a 2.20 ERA in 2002 to help the Giants win the NL pennant, played through pain during the playoffs that season. He knew he was risking further damage.

The Giants fell six outs short of a championship. Nen has repeatedly said he has no regrets.

“What am I going to change?” he said. “My job was to pitch. When you get between the lines, Adrenalin always takes over.”

Nen had four straight 40-save seasons and seven in a row with 30 or more saves. He won a World Series ring with Florida in 1997, then spent his final seven years with San Francisco.

“Robb is one of my favorite teammates ever, and I’ve played on a lot of teams with a lot of guys,” said Giants outfielder Moises Alou, who was on the Marlins with Nen. “He went down fighting. He wanted the ball.”

Nen notched 314 career saves in 10 major league seasons and is one of 19 pitchers to reach the 300 mark – and he was the youngest pitcher to do it at age 32 in 2002.

While he has been golfing a lot and enjoying more quality time with his family at their Orange County home, the transition into retirement has been strange.

He watches the Giants almost every night and admits to thinking about what it would be like to be back out on the mound.

“I didn’t really want to believe it, until spring training started and I was still home,” he said. “I don’t think I ever thought it would even be that bad (not pitching again).”

For trainer Stan Conte, this was an emotional day – one he wouldn’t allow himself to think much about beforehand.

His family made that tough, though. Conte’s older brother, Steve, was scheduled to get married Saturday evening in nearby Walnut Creek, and the ceremony wasn’t going to start until Conte arrived.

“They’re holding the vows until I get there,” Conte said. “It’s a backyard wedding. I consider Robb Nen family.”

Nen’s No. 31 jersey still hangs high on the clubhouse wall not far from his former locker, and longtime equipment manager Mike Murphy still takes the uniform on road trips, too.

“Robb Nen’s my baseball idol, but he’s not playing anymore,” first baseman J.T. Snow hollered through the dugout.

Reliever Scott Eyre still has a tiny “31” written on both his cleats and training shoes – “It’s sad for me still,” Eyre said.

A three-time All-Star, Nen was known for most known for his hard-nosed approach and nasty slider. The hard-throwing right-hander was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 1987 in the 32nd round.

“This is a generation of player you’re not going to see anymore,” Conte said. “He’s not just three outs in the ninth, he’s a closer. He’s the kind of guy who was willing to risk his career in a game.”

AP-ES-07-09-05 1647EDT


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