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The Eight Oddest Saves In Baseball History

Another boring, humdrum, run of the mill save for J. J. Putz. Why can't he give us any interesting ones?
Another boring, humdrum, run of the mill save for J. J. Putz. Why can't he give us any interesting ones?

Credit a pitcher with a save when he meets all three of the following conditions:
(1) He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his club; and
(2) He is not the winning pitcher; and
(3) He qualifies under one of the following conditions:
- (a) He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning; or
- (b) He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, or at bat, or on deck (that is, the potential tying run is either already on base or is one of the first two batsmen he faces; or
- (c) He pitches effectively for at least three innings. No more than one save may be credited in each game.
   -- MLB Rule 10.20

The "save" was invented in 1960 by baseball writer Jerome Holtzman, as a way of crediting relievers with effective performances. While a honorable intention, few would argue it is now most important as a way of jacking up closers' salaries, contributing to a culture where a team's best reliever will generally only be used in the ninth, regardless of when the game actually needs to be "saved". But in the four decades since the save became an official MLB statistic in 1969, there have certainly been some memorable examples - some good, some bad. After the jump, we'll list a few of them

The Worst Save: Dave Goltz, June 6th, 1973: Minnesota vs. Cleveland
The definition of "pitches effectively" is one left up to the official scorer by the rules, but I suspect few of us would consider it covers allowing thirteen hits in three innings. However, that what Goltz did, coming in for the seventh with a 13-1 lead, and doing a good job of losing most of it, giving up eight runs in three innings. Ironically, by the time he got the final out, it had become a genuine save situation, with the Twins 13-9 up and two men on base, so the tying run was on deck. No man has got a save since, while allowing more than five runs. No truth to the rumor that the official scorer that day now works at Coors.

The Twenty-Run Lead Save: Ramon Hernandez, May 17th, 1977: Chicago Cubs vs. San Diego
One of the most (in)famous saves is the one obtained by Wes Littleton in the 30-3 win by Texas over Baltimore, but he did at least come into the game with the Rangers "only" up by eleven. That gets blown away by Hernandez, who entered the seventh inning at Wrigley with the Cubs up 22-2 on the Padres. He allowed four in that inning, but nothing in the eighth and ninth, and was deemed to have "pitched effectively" enough to merit the save, as Chicago ran out 23-6 winners.

Back before the statistic was invented, Bob Feller is shown as getting a Save for Cleveland against St. Louis on August 12th, 1948. He came in with a 25-1 run lead, and only worked two innings, so would not now qualify. Now, the original rule was that "a relief pitcher earned a save when he entered the game with his team in the lead and held the lead for the remainder of the game, provided that he was not credited with the victory." That would explain Feller's save, but I believe all pre-1969 saves are supposedly based off the current definition, which would exclude Feller, as he did not pitch three innings.

The Best Save: Woodie Fryman, May 14, 1980: Montreal vs. Houston
47 pitchers in history have picked up four-inning saves, facing the minimum 12 batters and allowing no hits or walks. However, only a handful did it while preserving a one-run lead for the entire time. And we may not see their like again, since in these days of relief specialists, it's hard to imagine a single pitcher being entrusted with the narrowest of leads from the sixth inning. Fryman came in with the Expos up 1-0, but the tying run on base, and retired the next twelve batters he faced. Five of them struck-out, and only one ball got out of the infield, as Montreal held on to complete the shutout. Now, that was a save...

The Save Without Throwing A Pitch: Mitch Williams, April 28th, 1989: Chicago Cubs vs. San Diego
The 'Wild Thing' is the only man ever to record a save without throwing a pitch. He came in to the ninth inning with two outs and the Cubs 3-1 up, but the Padres were threatening, with men on first and second. Don't worry about them, Mitch - just get the man at the pla... Or pick-off a guy before sending anything at all to the plate. That works too. What must have been particularly galling for the Padres, is that the guy caught napping was the man on second, whose run meant absolutely nothing, and who should therefore have been nailed to the base.

The Legitimate Save in a 26-7 Game: Ed Vosberg, April 19th, 1996: Texas vs. Baltimore
Yep: another TEX/BAL game: must be something about those two teams that brings out the save weirdness, as this is one of the three games between those two sides to be mentioned here, a Ranger getting the Sv all three times. Vosberg didn't rely upon the "pitches effectively" rule, as he only got four outs. However, when he took the mound with two outs in the eighth, Texas was up 10-7, with a man on base, so the tying run was in the on-deck circle. Vosberg retired the batter, and his team-mates then set an major-league record for runs scored in the 8th, plating sixteen times

Roy Halladay's Single Save: April 7th, 1999: Toronto vs. Minnesota
Just five active pitchers have 100+ wins and are "One-Save Wonders." Jason Marquis (104 wins), Bronson Arroyo (110), Jon Garland (132), Johan Santana (133) and Halladay, who is more than fifty in fron of anyone else, with 184 victories to his name. His sole Sv came almost at the start of his career, in his third game for the Blue Jays. He came in to relieve David Wells, with Toronto 8-3 up, and pitched three hitless innings in the Metrodome, as the Blue Jays cruised to victory. However, Doc has some way to go before surpassing all-time leader Tom Seaver, who had 311 wins to go with his one save.

The Twenty-One Out Save:Joaquin Benoit, September 3rd, 2002: Texas vs. Baltimore
Benoit is the only man in the past fifty years to go more than six innings for a save. Rangers starter Aaron Myette walked lead-off Oriole Melvin Mora on four pitches - two of them went behind the batter, and Myette was promptly ejected. Todd Van Popple worked two hitless innings, and with Texas scoring three in the top of the second, was credited with the W. Benoit then "closed things out" with seven frames, taking a combined no-hitter into the ninth before allowing a triple to Jerry Hairston. I'm thinking this was probably the only team one-hitter in baseball history, where the starter failed to record a single out. 

The Save Without Facing A Batter: Brendan Donnelly, September 30th, 2009: Florida vs. Atlanta
This one was already memorable for Ricky Nolasco fanning nine straight Braves, but for our purposes here, it's how it ended. It wasn't even on a pick-off either, like Mitch Williams'. Donnelly came in with the bases loaded, and the tying run at third, but his first pitch bounced away from  catcher Ronnie Paulino. Matt Diaz, on third, broke for home, then changed his mind and tried to scamper back to the base. However, Paulino's strong throw was enough to nail Diaz and end the game. He said afterward:, "I hesitated and it cost us big. I've never felt this bad about a play. It's a sinking feeling knowing you cost these guys."