There are four pitchers with 35 or more wins, 80-plus saves, and an ERA under 3.10 during the 1976-87 seasons (maximum 700 IP). Sorted by bWAR, Lee Smith tops this quartet with a clean 19.0; keep in mind, this only covers his first eight seasons. He also saved 180 games, which is essentially 37.7% of his career 478 saves.
Dave Smith – no relation – slides into second with 124 of his 216 career saves on this list, as he was the primary closer for the Houston Astros in the mid-to-late-80s. Jesse Orosco is the third name on this list with 107 saves in that span (144 career total) but is second in bWAR at 12.3. Orosco is the only closer of the four with a World Series ring. He has two, in fact. He was on the ’86 Mets and the ’88 Dodgers.
Now, back to Dave Smith. Smith was the second reliever to appear in a National League Division Series game, in 1981 when it was the National League Western Division Series. Dave Stewart, that Dave Stewart, relieved Fernando Valenzuela in Game 1 to beat Smith out for first in history. At least it was somebody named Dave!
The answer to today’s puzzle was a teammate of Smith’s from 1980-84 in the Houston bullpen. A lefty reliever from Brooklyn, NY, he was born in a window of time where he ended up being a New York Yankees’ fan (too young for the Dodgers, I guess). He fondly recalls his first trip to Yankee Stadium with his father, particularly how brilliantly green the grass was (TV broadcasts were still primarily in Black & White).
He played baseball on a scholarship to Adelphi University, which is on Long Island, so he wasn’t too far from home. He is the only major leaguer from that small school and his 1.27 sophomore year ERA is still the third stingiest in school history. Additionally that year, he became the first All-American from Adelphi.
The southpaw’s major-league debut was inauspicious, to say the least. He took over for Tom Griffin with the bases loaded and just one out in the bottom of the first, down 2-0 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Facing Richie Hebner (lefty-lefty matchup) to start, he walked him on four pitches and forced in a run. Next, he gave up a bases-clearing triple to Manny Sanguillén, now down 6-0 and staring down a crushing Win Expectancy of 5% by the end of the inning. Don’t forget, three of those runs belonged to Griffin, so our man actually got out of the game with three earned runs to Griffin’s five.
Fast forward five years and he is the first reliever to earn a win in National League Divisional postseason play. He followed Dave Smith out of the bullpen that day and struck out Mike Marshall to end the top of the 11th inning. In 1985, he had a short stint with the Mets and the next season ended up on the wrong end of the World Series matchup, pitching for the Boston Red Sox.
A little over halfway through the next season (1987), he would be out of baseball, but not out of work for very long. He began his second career as an agent and, as of this writing, he continues on with Relativity Baseball. Who is this pioneer?
Here’s the answer if you need to CHEAT-O….see how horribly I will pun-ish you today?!? You’re welcome.
PS – If the “Chico & the Man” reference is lost on you, just ask your parents…or grandparents.