In 2003, Billy Wagner was the closer on an Astros team that featured the first bullpen with a pair of pitchers to throw at least 50 innings, allow fewer than six hits per nine innings, and strike out more than 10 batters per nine. That season, Wagner threw 86 innings and allowed 52 hits while striking out 105. His bullpen mate Octavio Dotel threw 87 innings, allowed 53 hits and struck out 97. For good measure, a third Astros reliever -- Brad Lidge -- pitched 85 innings, allowed 60 hits (6.35 hits/nine), and struck out 97. Add those individual figures up and you get a ferocious reliever trio that combined for 258 innings, 165 hits allowed and 299 strikeouts.
Wagner serves as the connective tissue -- the one degree of separation -- between that group in Houston in 2003 and a current assemblage of lightning-bolt arms in Atlanta. As Wagner was finishing his career in 2010, he was the closer in a Braves bullpen that also featured Craig Kimbrel (0.44 ERA in 20 2/3 innings) and Jonny Venters (1.95 ERA in 83 innings). This season, Kimbrel is averaging 5.34 hits allowed and 14.24 strikeouts per nine innings, while Venters is at 4.71 hits allowed and 9.93 K's per nine.
After Atlanta starter Mike Minor held the Giants scoreless on four hits with nine strikeouts in six innings Thursday, Braves relievers Eric O'Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel combined closed out a 1-0 win over the Giants.
Kimbrel struck out two in a 1-2-3 ninth inning and recorded his 37th save of the season. In his past 29 appearances, Kimbrel has pitched 28 2/3 innings and has allowed no runs on nine hits and has struck out 48. The 29 consecutive scoreless appearances and the 28 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings are the most for any Braves reliever in the live-ball era, and the 29 consecutive scoreless appearances tie Kimbrel with four other pitchers for the 14th most in the Majors since 1969.
Kimbrel's 37 saves tie him with Kaz Sasaki (2000) for the second-most all-time for a rookie. Only Neftali Feliz (40 last season) had more.
Kimbrel, Venters and O'Flaherty have combined to throw 187 1/3 innings, own a combined 1.39 ERA, have allowed 118 hits and have struck out 228.
With the 1-0 loss, the Giants have averaged 3.12 runs per game on offense when Tim Lincecum starts. The Giants are 15-11 in Lincecum's starts. In the 11 losses, they have scored a total of 16 runs.
Lincecum struck out seven to bring his career total to 1,089. Lincecum is five K's shy of tying Bert Blyleven for the second most for any pitcher since 1893 in his first five seasons. Tom Seaver, with 1,155, had the most.
The 1-0 affair marked the 48th 1-0 game of the season. At this point last year, there had been 42.
Clayton Kershaw pitched eight shutout innings, allowed five hits and fanned six with no walks in the Dodgers' 5-1 win over the Brewers. Kershaw, who is in his age-23 season, improved to 15-5 and lowered his ERA to 2.60.
Since 1893, four Dodgers pitchers in their age-23 season or younger have qualified for the ERA title and finished the year with a 2.60 ERA or lower. In 1907, Nap Rucker (age-22 season) had a 2.06 ERA; in 1908, Rucker had a 2.08 ERA; in 1981, Fernando Valenzuela (age-20 season) finished with a 2.48 ERA; in 1968, Don Sutton (age-23 season) had a 2.60 ERA.
Kershaw's ERA+ currently sits at 137. For all Dodgers pitchers since 1893, that ERA+ would be the sixth best for a pitcher in his age-23 season or younger. Don Drysdale (age-20 season) had a 155 in 1957; Ralph Branca (age-21 season) had a 154 in '47; Ismael Valdez (age-23 season) had a 146 in '97; Kershaw (age-21 season) had a 143 in 2009; Drysdale (age-23 season) had a 139 in 1960.
Kershaw had a 143 ERA+ in 2009, a 132 ERA+ last season, and has the 137 this year. If he finishes at or above 130, he will become the fifth pitcher since 1893 to have three qualifying seasons with an ERA+ of at least 130 through his age-23 season. Christy Mathewson had four such campaigns, and Walter Johnson, Smoky Joe Wood and Frank Tanana had three apiece.
Kershaw is averaging 9.75 strikeouts per nine innings, while maintaining a 4.33 ratio of strikeouts to walks. Mark Prior, in 2003, is the only pitcher since 1893 to be in his age-23 season (or younger) and average more than nine K's per nine and have four strikeouts for every walk.
Kershaw is one of 16 pitchers since 1893 to have at least 696 strikeouts through his age-23 season. Among those 16, his career 128 ERA+ is tied with Drysdale for the eighth best.
Kershaw has had 12 outings this season in which he's gone at least six innings and allowed no more than one run. That total ties Kershaw with Justin Verlander and James Shields for the third most in the Majors. Lincecum has 15 and Jered Weaver has 16.
Kershaw is tied with Ian Kennedy and Roy Halladay for the league lead in wins. The last Dodgers southpaw to lead the National League in wins was Valenzuela, with 21 in 1986.
The Indians, behind Justin Masterson's six innings of two-run ball, beat the White Sox, 4-2. With the victory, Cleveland moved to within 1 1/2 games of the Detroit for the lead in the American League Central (Chicago is four out).
The Indians and Tigers have a three-game set in Detroit this weekend. After this upcoming series, the two clubs have two more on the schedule -- they play three in Cleveland from Sept. 5-7 and then finish out the season in Detroit with a three-game set.
Masterson has 15 starts this season in which he has gone at least six innings and allowed no more than two runs. Those 15 place him in a tie with eight other pitchers for the fifth most in the Majors.
Curtis Granderson hit his 10th triple of the season in the Yankees' 8-4 win over the Twins. Granderson, who also has 19 doubles and 34 home runs, leads the AL in extra-base hits, with 63.
Granderson is the first Yankees player since Mickey Mantle in 1955 to have at least 30 home runs and 10 triples. Mantle had 37 and 11 that season.
Over the past 50 seasons, Granderson is the 15th player to have a 30-homer, 10-triple season. The others: Johnny Callison (1964, '65), Ron Santo ('64), Dick Allen ('66), Jim Rice ('77, '78), Mike Schmidt ('77), Dave Parker ('78), Dave Winfield ('79), Andre Dawson ('83), Nomar Garciaparra ('97), Steve Finley ('99), Vladimir Guerrero (2000) and Jimmy Rollins ('07).
Here and there
Yankees starter CC Sabathia won his 17th game of the season and now has 174 career victories. The career win total ties him with Vic Willis and Jim Palmer for the 15th most for any pitcher since 1893 through a pitcher's age-30 season. Since 1893 among left-handers through their age-30 season, Sabathia's 174 victories are third most, behind Hal Newhouser's 191 and Jesse Tannehill's 175. The all-time winningest left-hander -- Warren Spahn (363 wins) -- had 108 victories through his age-30 season.
Mark Trumbo's game-ending two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth gave the Angels a 2-1 win over the Rangers, kept Texas from completing a four-game sweep, and got starter Jered Weaver (seven innings, one run) off the hook for the loss. Weaver has 14 starts this season in which he has gone at least seven innings and allowed no more than one run. That total leads the Majors, and is the third most for an Angels pitcher in franchise history. Dean Chance had 19 such starts in 1964, and Nolan Ryan had 17 in '72.
Toronto's Ricky Romero threw a three-hit shutout vs. the A's to win his 12th game and lower his ERA to 2.73. Romero is allowing 6.74 hits per nine innings. Only two Blue Jays pitchers have ever qualified for the ERA title and suppressed hits at such a low rate. In 1998, Roger Clemens allowed 6.48 hits per nine, and in '92, Juan Guzman allowed 6.73 hits per nine.
Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.