Smyly's long save has nothing on Benoit
DETROIT -- Drew Smyly's four-inning save Friday was the longest by a Tiger since 2004. It is not, however, the longest by a pitcher currently on the Detroit staff.
"Not even close," said Joaquin Benoit, author of a seven-inning save -- and nearly a no-hitter -- in 2002.
Nobody, in fact, has a longer save than Benoit since it became an official statistic in 1969.
Benoit is part of the Tigers' closer-by-committee format, but he was in the Texas Rangers' rotation late in the 2002 season when they made an early September trip to Baltimore.
Orioles starter John Stephens hit Rangers superstar Alex Rodriguez with two outs in the top of the first inning. When the O's came to bat in the bottom of the first, Rangers starter Aaron Myette threw two pitches behind leadoff man Melvin Mora and was ejected by home-plate umpire Mark Hirschbeck.
Todd Van Poppel, then pitching out of the Rangers' bullpen, came on and covered two innings. During the second inning, while the Rangers were pulling ahead, one of the coaches talked with Benoit, who was charting pitches that night since he was scheduled to start the next day.
"When Van Poppel pitched the first inning," Benoit said, "they came in and they asked me, 'Can you pitch?' And I said, 'Yeah, I'm starting tomorrow.' 'No, no, can you pitch now? And I'm like, 'Uhh, yeah.'"
So Benoit replaced Van Poppel after two hitless innings of work and made what amounted to a spot start that began in the third inning. And he rolled, retiring 18 out of the first 20 batters he faced. The only Orioles to reach base in that stretch both reached on hit-by-pitches.
Benoit took the mound in the ninth inning not only with a chance at a marathon save, but a chance to finish out a combined no-hitter. Jerry Hairston Jr. broke it up with a leadoff triple past right fielder Carl Everett.
Hairston scored, but Benoit retired the side in order from there to finish out the 7-1 win. He ended up with seven innings of one-hit, one-run ball for his first Major League save.
It was a big enough performance, he said, that Rangers owner Tom Hicks met him afterward and shook his hand.
"That's the first time I had a conversation with the Rangers owner," Benoit recalled. "He said, 'Congratulations, you have the longest save in Major League history. And I'm like, 'What? I didn't get the win?'"