Orioles' Johnson snaps blown-saves skid
Rebounds to become first in team history with multiple 40-save years
Jim Johnson took the mound at Camden Yards on Friday night, and nine pitches later he had closed out a 9-7 Orioles victory over the Oakland A's, becoming the first Orioles reliever to have multiple 40-save season.
With the O's in the midst of a battle for a postseason berth, Johnson had given the Baltimore faithful a positive to grasp in light of the three consecutive blown saves he suffered during the Orioles' series earlier this month at San Francisco and Arizona -- the most recent time he'd been given a save opportunity.
Friday, Johnson allowed the Orioles to clinch the season series from the A's, giving Baltimore the home-field edge in case the A's and O's wind up tied for a playoff spot. The Orioles are currently two games back of Oakland for the second American League Wild Card spot.
"It think it was a relief for a lot of people," Johnson told the media afterward.
There is no role in baseball where perfection is demanded more than a closer.
Even though Johnson leads the majors with 40 saves, what looms over him is that he also leads the Majors with nine blown saves, which was highlighted by that three-game meltdown from Aug. 9-14.
Since the save became an official statistic in 1969, there have been 781 pitchers to earn at least 20 saves in a season. Only six times has a closer with at least 20 saves been perfect in the role, according to Stats Inc.
Eric Gagne converted a record 55 out of 55 for the Dodgers in 2003, Jose Valverde was 49-for-49 for Detroit in '11, Brad Lidge went 41-for-41 in Philadelphia in '08, Michael Gonzalez was 24-for-24 with Pittsburgh in '06, and Rod Beck went 28-for-28 with the Giants in 1994, and 20-for-20 in San Diego in 2003.
Johnson, meanwhile, is one of 209 relievers to have at least nine blown saves in a season since 1969. He, however, has an 81.6 percent conversion rate, which ties him with Jeff Reardon with Boston in 1991 for the 12th-best conversion rate of a relief with nine or more failures.
Rollie Fingers holds the record of 15 blown saves in 1976 with Oakland (when he converted 20 but also pitched 134 2/3 innings). There have been eight pitchers blow 13 or more saves in a season, and three of them are in the Hall of Fame: Fingers, Bruce Sutter, who was 27-for-41 with the Cubs in 1978, and Goose Gossage, who was 22-for-35 with the Yankees in 1983.
There have been four relievers who blew 10 or more saves in a season in which they closed on World Series championship team: Dan Quisenberry (37-for-49 with Kansas City in 1985), Gossage (27-for-37 with Yankees in '78), Jason Isringhausen (33-for-43 with Cardinals in 2006), and Reardon (31-for-41 with Twins in 1987).
The 2004 Colorado Rockies set the team record with 34 blown saves, one more than Texas in '02, and two more than Atlanta in 1973 and the Chicago White Sox in '96. Colorado had the most blown saves (29) for a team to advance to the World Series, when it was swept by Boston in 2007.
St. Louis, in 2011, and Minnesota, in 1987, suffered the most blown saves (26) of any team that has won a World Series championship. The Cardinals' bullpen converted 47 of 73, and the Twins' 'pen 39 of 65.
At 6-foot-4, DJ LeMahieu has joined George ``High Pockets" Kelly of the 1925 New York Giants as what are believed to be the tallest every-day second baseman in major league history. Dick Hall, who was 6-foot-6, is believed to be the tallest player to play second base, but that was for only seven games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in '53.
Kelly spent the prime of his career as the starting first baseman for the Giants. He led the National League in home runs in 1921, RBIs in '20 and '24, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in '73. He appeared at second baseman in only 145 games during a career that spanned 16 big league seasons, and 108 of those games came in '25 when Frankie Frisch was injured.
Branch Rickey auditioned Hall, who was signed by the Pirates as an outfielder, at third base and shortstop. Hall was a September call-up in 1953, when he drew seven starts at second base. By '55, he was converted to the mound. During his 16-year pitching career, Hall threw one wild pitch and unintentionally issued 166 walks in 1,259 2/3 innings.
Hall, who was the oldest player in the Majors his final two seasons (1970 and '71), was a member of the Orioles' World Series championship teams in '66 and '70, and the AL pennant-winning teams in '69 and '71. He became the first pitcher to win a League Championship Series game, getting the final two outs in the top of the 12th inning of the Orioles' 5-4, 12-inning victory vs. Minnesota on Oct. 4, 1969.
It's a hit
There is debate on Ichiro Suzuki's 4,000 hits because 1,278 of them came while he was playing in his native Japan. What can't be ignored, however, is that Ichiro has 43 big league hitting streaks of 10 games or more, according to stats guru Bill Arnold. Only five players have had more: Ty Cobb (66), Hank Aaron (48), Tris Speaker (47), Derek Jeter (45) and Al Simmons (44).
• Houston went into Saturday with a "tragic number" for elimination from the AL West title of three, and seven for elimination from AL Wild Card contention. In the NL, Miami's tragic numbers were seven in the NL East and 11 in the NL Wild Card.
• The Rays and Orioles both batted their designated hitters ninth in their game on Tuesday, only the fourth time since 1973 (when the rule was adopted) that opposing teams batted both DH's at the bottom of the order, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The other contests with two ninth-place designated hitters were the Indians-A's contest on July 25, 2005, the Indians-Blue Jays game on May 4, 2009, and the Yankees-Rays on Oct. 2, 2009.
• The Dodgers are the third team since 1901 to go from at least 12 games under .500 (they were 30-42 on June 22) to at least 22 games over .500 (they went into Saturday 76-52). The other two: the 1914 Boston Braves and 2009 Colorado Rockies. The Braves won the World Series. The Rockies lost in the NL Division Series.
• White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana has a franchise-record 15 no-decisions this year, and he has 25 no-decisions in 48 career starts. By contrast, White Sox Hall of Fame pitcher Ted Lyons had 29 no-decisions in 484 career starts, compiling a 245-210 record in those outings.
Out of left field
Kit Krieger of SABR notes that former Minor League batterymates, pitcher Connie Marrero and catcher Mike Sandlock were a combined 200 years and 65 days of age on Saturday, probably the longest-lived former battery in professional baseball. The two former Major Leaguers played for the Almendares Scorpions of the Cuban Winter League in the 1947-48 season. Marrero, who turned 102 on April 25, is the oldest living former big leaguer. He pitched for the Washington Senators from 1950-54.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.