Brad Ziegler entered last night's game with the bases loaded, one out in the eighth and a one-run lead. The tying run was 90 feet away from home, and with it, the end of Ziegler's 40-game save streak - the longest active run in the majors and in the top ten of all-time. I'd not have blamed Z, if he had chained himself to the foul-pole, and refused to enter the game, particularly since the jam he inherited was one entirely not of his own making. His unblemished record ending there would have been like a batter losing a hitting streak, after entering a game for a 9th-inning appearance off the bench against Aroldis Chapman. But he not only entered, he prevailed, retiring all five batters faced - with a little help from Michael Bourn.
In terms of Win Probability added, it was worth +51.1%. That split more or less evenly, three ways: the strikeout of Kiki Hernandez, the lineout off the bat of Howie Kendrick, and then the perfect ninth inning, were each worth about the same in terms of WP. It was the highest score for a National League save in over three years, since the Giants' Santiago Casilla notched a +55.8% WP on April 13, 2013, for a six-out save in a one-run game, coming in with two on and nobody out in the eighth. Coincidentally, the last superior save in the American League belongs to Ziegler's now team-mate, Tyler Clippard, who got a +52.8% with Oakland last May.
It was, far and away, the toughest save in Ziegler's history - he only has two previously which were worth even thirty percent. The previous highest was back in 2008 with Oakland; it was a similar situation, bases loaded in a one-run game, but Brad entered with two outs in the eighth rather than one, and so it was "only" +41.5%. As far as the current streak goes, his toughest save took place on September 9th last year - seven years to the day after the Oakland save! - against the Giants at Chase, It was another five-out save following on the heels of Daniel Hudson, Ziegler entering with one out in the eighth and men on first and second, to preserve the win.
However, in terms of baseball history, last night's save doesn't even rank in the top 300. That's because there was a time where closers habitually threw multiple innings - and I don't mean just two. The all-time record for "toughest save" belongs to Gary Lucas of the 1982 Padres, who came into a game on June 4, with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the sixth against the Pirates, with San Diego 5-4 up. He got a strikeout, double-play - and then followed up with three further innings of scoreless relief. That was worth a cool +80.3% of WP. Among single-inning saves, the record is Todd Erdos of the Yankees, who notched +75.5% for escaping the bases-loaded, no outs jam he inherited in 2000.
What about for the Diamondbacks? Here are the top 10 regular season saves in team history, by Win Probability Added [For the record, the top save in post-season history for Arizona, was the two-inning save notched by Kim in Game 5 of the 2001 NLCS against Atlanta, at +36.2%] Links under date go to the box-score of that particular game.
|1||Greg Swindell||2001-05-29||SFG||W 1-0||1.0||0||0||0||1||0||14||6||2||4||0.515|
|2||Brad Ziegler||2016-06-13||LAD||W 3-2||1.2||0||0||0||0||1||18||12||3||5||0.511|
|3||Joe Paterson||2011-05-20||MIN||W 8-7||0.2||0||0||0||0||1||9||6||3||2||0.453|
|4||Matt Mantei||2003-04-19||STL||W 4-3||2.0||0||0||0||0||1||18||14||1||6||0.440|
|5||Tony Pena||2008-08-19||SDP||W 7-6||0.2||0||0||0||0||0||5||4||2||2||0.378|
|6||Byung-Hyun Kim||2001-07-04||HOU||W 3-2||2.0||0||0||0||1||5||35||24||0||7||0.369|
|7||Brad Ziegler||2015-09-09||SFG||W 2-1||1.2||0||0||0||0||0||17||12||2||5||0.368|
|8||Byung-Hyun Kim||2002-06-08||BOS||W 3-2||1.1||1||0||0||0||1||23||17||2||5||0.367|
|9||Gregg Olson||1998-08-03||CHC||W 6-5||1.2||1||0||0||0||3||27||21||1||6||0.360|
|10||Greg Aquino||2005-07-30||CHC||W 3-2||2.0||0||0||0||0||3||24||14||0||6||0.355|
So, last night's save appears to have been our second greatest of all-time. The circumstances for #1 were certainly memorable, as it came in the eighteenth inning at San Francisco, ending a game which had been scoreless through the first 17. An Erubiel Durazo RBI double had just given the D-backs the lead, and Miguel Batista came in for his fifth inning of relief. But it didn't go well. he was greeted with a double - by Ryan Vogelsong, no less! - then a walk, and Bob Brenly turned to Swindell, who was pitching for the third consecutive night, with two on but no outs. And who was at the plate? Barry Bonds, a monster that came into the game sporting a 1.358 OPS for the first two months of the season.
Swindell, however, didn't bend. He got a groundout from Bonds, putting runners on the corners, then intentionally walked the dangerous Jeff Kent to load the bases with one out. Armando Rios flew out to Steve Finley in center, and Swindell got Benito Santiago to hit a fly-ball to Reggie Sanders in right, as the D-backs completed what remains, to this day, the longest 1-0 win in the major-leagues since 1989. Swindell's Win Probability? +51.5%, part of a collective WP tally for our pitchers that day of an astonishing +195.5%. Hard to argue Ziegler's performance was last night was more clutch, but I've little doubt it'll be among the nominees for Performance of the Year, at the end of the season.