Reyes' MLB record caps series win for Cards

26-year-old righty converts 24th consecutive save to start his career

July 18th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- When left Busch Stadium on Saturday night, after converting another save in his illustrious All-Star season, he heard some congratulations from fans as he left the ballpark.

“[They] said congratulations, and I was like, ‘Well, you know, we got the win.’” Reyes recalled. At the time, he didn't realize the MLB record he had just tied. And then he started to get filled in.

After Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Giants to lock up the series win, Reyes' teammates made sure he knew, aiming his gaze up toward the video board to soak in what it said: Reyes’ 24th consecutive save converted to start his career passed former Twins closer LaTroy Hawkins to set a Major League record.

So now, he knows.

“I would say, ‘Dope,’ where I grew up,” Reyes smiled.

In passing Hawkins’ mark, Reyes also surpassed club Hall of Famer Jason Isringhausen -- who's been a mentor as Reyes has learned the closer role -- for the franchise record of consecutive saves at any point in a career. Reyes' 22 to start 2021 also tied Tom Henke’s franchise mark, set in 1995, for the most to open a campaign.

“It's a phenomenal record,” said manager Mike Shildt. “That’s an impressive record. It really is. And he earned it, that's for sure. He's just done a fantastic job for us. Is it more special because he's overcome the adversities he’s overcome? Probably. … Any time you hold a Major League record for anything, it says something in this game, and he's got a record that is very impressive.”

The Cardinals (46-47) are 37-0 this season when leading after eight innings. Reyes leads the Majors with 38 games finished.

He arrived at Spring Training expecting to be a starter, finally healthy and putting in the work to justify his top prospect past. When he left, he was set on a course to be one of the most efficient closers in the Majors this season.

“I've learned his competitive spirit and his heart for competition in big moments years ago,” said Shildt, who was Reyes’ manager at Triple-A Memphis when he earned his first big league callup in 2016. “... People either embrace those moments or back down or learn to embrace them. In Alex’s case, he always embraced them. He actually had to learn to back off a little bit because he wanted it, so he was going to attack it. And it's a great trait.”

In the macro, Reyes’ afternoon was a continuation of the excellence set forth before him. After starter Wade LeBlanc left Ryan Helsley a two-on jam with no outs in the fifth, the birthday boy escaped to keep the score gridlocked. Harrison Bader broke the tie in the seventh while the bullpen was pitching four no-hit innings, working around walks to secure the Cardinals’ second series win in their last three tries -- both against the first-place Giants.

“We’ve got a great group of guys back there,” Helsley said, “ready for whenever the phone rings.”

Reyes has been the leader of the pack, with a 1.45 ERA in his first full and healthy season in the bigs. With two walks on his ledger Sunday, though, he’s ballooned his walk rate to 18.8 percent this season -- the highest among qualified relievers.

“I don't think anybody wants to go out and throw four balls or give a guy a free pass. I definitely prefer to give up a base hit,” Reyes said. “But those are things that I've battled throughout my career, and thankfully, I've been able to bounce back on the next few errors and execute pitches.”

It’s a part of the learning process for Reyes, still just 26 but with a veteran’s worth of career experiences, including the highs of his first All-Star Game on Tuesday, in which he recorded a strikeout, and the lows of two season-ending injuries and a third that derailed his 2019 season.

So call it a trial of learning on the job -- and doing said job better than many others with the same role. It may not be his job for long, as Reyes and the Cards visualize him back in the rotation in 2022, but it’s one they’ve long seen him capable of handling.

And now, there's some history attached.

“We put him in that role to start [the year] for a reason,” Shildt said.