The Oakland A’s won a laugher on Tuesday, by the score of 21-7 over the Astros. There were dingers and rallies and dingers and crazy stat lines and records and also dingers. And there was ... a save at the end?
A save is awarded to the relief pitcher who finishes a game for the winning team, under certain circumstances. A pitcher cannot receive a save and a win in the same game.
A relief pitcher recording a save must preserve his team’s lead while doing one of the following:
• Enter the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitch at least one inning.
• Enter the game with the tying run in the on-deck circle, at the plate or on the bases.
• Pitch at least three innings.
That last bullet point is the relevant part here. Regardless of the score of the game, if the winning team’s final pitcher enters with a lead and throws the last three frames without giving it up, then he gets a save, period.
On Tuesday, that pitcher was Daniel Mengden. The right-hander is usually a starter, but with no space in the current rotation he’s serving as a depth long man on the expanded September roster. This was the ultimate mop-up duty.
With the A’s leading 20-5 entering the bottom of the 7th inning, Mengden was called on to wrap things up. It didn’t go perfectly, with baserunners in each inning and a couple runs in the 9th, but he wasn’t in there to put up zeroes. He was in there to get nine outs and prevent the rest of the bullpen (including actual A’s closer Liam Hendriks) from having to work during meaningless garbage time.
The save was the first of Mengden’s MLB career, because of course it was — 47 of his 55 appearances have been starts, and several of the others were bulk relief outings following a 1st-inning opener. Better yet, his odd achievement came in his native Houston, where he was born and raised.
However, it’s not the first save of his pro career. He earned one in the minors back in 2015, when he was still in the Astros system before being traded to Oakland, and he did it in the same fashion as he did on Tuesday. His High-A club was leading comfortably 8-1, and he tossed the final four innings to wrap things up.
All of this gives me a chance to bring up my favorite instance of the three-inning save, and one of my very favorite stat quirks of all time. Back in 2007, the Rangers beat the Orioles 30-3. Yes, that’s thirty-to-three. It’s the biggest margin of victory for any MLB game during the modern era (post-1900), and it was largely fueled by the eighth and ninth hitters in Texas’ lineup (4 hits, 2 HR, and 7 RBI ... each).
And of course, that game ended with a three-inning save. Rangers reliever (and Hayward, CA native) Wes Littleton entered a 14-3 game in the 7th and tossed three scoreless frames, while his teammates tacked on another 16 insurance runs for good measure. The biggest blowout in league history ended with a “save.”
Normally I’m not a fan of stat quirks that make a mockery of truth and reality, like pitcher win-loss record or a batter getting a double because the outfielder lost a routine fly in the sun. But this one is so harmless, coming only occasionally and in such silly blowout games, that I love it. Long live the three-inning save, and long live Fireman Daniel Mengden.