The Oakland A's won 14-5 on Monday night, in what can accurately be described as a blowout. With such a big lead, the A's turned to the long man in their bullpen, spare starter Zach Neal, to mop up some garbage-time innings. Neal did just that, zipping through the final three frames to finish off the victory. For that effort, he earned a save, which was not only his first in the bigs but also the first of his entire pro career.
The save is one of the dumbest stats in all of sports, for a variety of reasons that we don't need to get into here. But it has one peculiar caveat that comes up now and then in this type of situation: if a pitcher throws at least three innings to finish off a team victory and he doesn't earn the win himself, then he get gets a save, regardless of the score. This little bylaw is the reason Texas' Wes Littleton earned a save in a 30-3 rout.
There are a few statistical tidbits from this that I found interesting:
- Neal has appeared in 154 games in his professional career, and 136 of them have been starts. And yet, he earned his first MLB save (purely a reliever stat) before his first MLB win.
- But of course, it's not that weird for a minor league starter to switch to the bullpen in the bigs. So how about this: Neal has appeared in four MLB games, and the scores of those games were 13-3, 13-3, 12-3, 14-5. He has never pitched in a game that was decided by fewer than nine runs, and yet he has the same number of career saves as Marc Rzepczynski or Ryan Dull.
- Neal recorded his first MLB save without ever having recorded one in the minors, which means this was the first of his entire pro career. Again, I'm not sure how unique that actually is, but it seems odd when you take that fact on its own. Mariano Rivera came up as a starter and over half his minor league games were starts, but he still managed to pick up one save back in Rookie Ball when he was 20. Jose Mesa picked up two even though he mostly started in the minors. Among starters-turned-relievers who debuted after 1990 (when saves were becoming more prevalent, so, removing guys like Eck and Smoltz), Ryan Dempster is one that I've found who never saved a game in the minors.
Good job, Zach?