With the Blue Jays winning a laugher, allaying health concerns about Henderson Alvarez’ elbow in the bargain, this is a good time to forgo the game story and throw down a little bit of Baseball 101.
Before I do that, though, I’ll just say that Alvarez had a brilliant outing just five days after being forced out of a game with soreness in his right elbow – he needed just 80 pitches to throw seven innings, didn’t walk anyone, pitched ahead all day and allowed only seven balls to be hit out of the infield in the air.
It was as perfect as it was unexpected. Heck, I had my doubts right up until I saw the line-up card that he’d actually be pitching. But Alvarez appears to be just fine, thank you, and that’s a huge boost to the Blue Jays’ rotation.
The other thing that stood out about the game was Kelly Johnson’s near-perfect day. The recently much-maligned second baseman has suffered through a terrible month, hitting .213/.276/.245 with just two extra-base hits going into Saturday’s June finale. But Johnson wrapped up the month on a high note, reaching base in six straight plate appearances before striking out to end the bottom of the eighth. Johnson had four walks, a double and a triple over that span, and if he’s starting to see the ball better and can hit in July and August the way that he did in April and May, that’ll be a great help to a team that’s going to need its bats a great deal in the coming months.
Now, to the Baseball 101 for this long weekend: There have been 20 blown saves in games involving the Blue Jays this season (11 for the Jays, nine for their opponents), 60 per cent of which have occurred before the ninth inning. On each of those 12 occasions, I have gotten dozens of tweets about it – some asking how it is that a save can be blown before the ninth, most insisting that it’s not possible to blow a save before the ninth with several adding to that that I’m an idiot.
I’m much appreciative of all the questions and assessments, but I figured that it might be a good idea to explain the rule in this forum, a place where I have more than 140 characters, so here we go:
First of all, in order to get a save, a pitcher must finish the game and not qualify for the win. Once those standards are met, there are three criteria by which a pitcher can be awarded a save:
1 – Enter the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitch at least one inning;
B – Enter the game with the tying run on base, at bat or on deck;
III – Pitch at least three innings.
If any one of those three criteria is satisfied, after meeting the earlier standard, the pitcher gets a save. Therefore, it stands to reason that whenever a pitcher comes into a game and would meet any of the three criteria if he winds up finishing the game, he’s pitching in a save situation.
There’s no such thing as a “blown hold”, even though it’s possible to give up the lead in a situation in which a pitcher would get a hold had he successfully completed his inning of work, because there’s no crystal balling allowed. Once a pitcher enters the game, the official scorer must assume that he might finish it. And if he does wind up finishing the game, he’d get a save.
So not only is it possible to blow a save in the sixth, seventh or eighth, as well as in the ninth inning and extras, it’s possible, in theory, to blow a save much earlier.
A starting pitcher needs to work at least five innings in order to get a win, of course, but a relief pitcher is under no such obligation, so a blown save can happen as early as the very first inning, though weird things would have to happen.
For that specific scenario to take place, the visiting team would have to go into the bottom of the first inning with the lead and use three pitchers in that first inning, the third of which wound up blowing that lead. It’s unlikely, but not impossible – as we’ve seen with the Blue Jays over the course of the last month, pitchers can get hurt sometimes.
Even though a bunch of pitchers did get hurt in June, the Blue Jays almost played .500 ball in the month, winding up 13-14 after back-to-back wins over the Angels. The series closes out Canada Day afternoon with a 3:07PM Eastern first pitch. We’ll broadcast the game all across the Blue Jays Radio Network beginning at 2:30, and those of you listening in on Sportsnet590 The Fan or sportsnet590.ca get the pleasure of an extra half-hour of pre-gameness, beginning at 2:00pm. Join us, won’t you?