A Ranger's long journey to career milestone

May 28th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry’s Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

BALTIMORE -- Will Smith’s first career save came during his years in Milwaukee. It was April 13, 2014, against the Pirates at what was then Miller Park. He recorded just one out after starter Kyle Lohse went 8 ⅔ innings in a 4-1 Brewers win. 

Smith, just 24 years old at the time, didn’t even know it counted as a save. 

“Everybody after the game was like ‘Congratulations, congratulations,’” Smith recalled. “I was like, ‘What's going on?’ Like, for real, I didn't know what was going on, because I didn’t understand the rules of saves. They gave me the lineup card and the ball and all that stuff, I've got it framed at the house now. But I had no idea it was my first one until after."

It would be his only save for the next four years, until he landed on Bruce Bochy’s Giants in 2018. That was the first time he had the opportunity to be a full-time closer. 

Five years and three teams later -- and back with Bochy -- Smith became the 17th active Major League pitcher to record 100 or more saves when he notched a five-out save against the Pirates on Wednesday. 

“It’s a cool number,” Smith said. “Obviously it’s nowhere close to the top. It’s just a cool number obviously, I’m proud. I’ll always remember it.”

Smith hasn’t always been a closer since his first time around with Bochy in San Francisco, but his ability to pitch in multiple roles out of the bullpen is what’s made him such a valuable player for such a long time. 

“He’s had a tremendous career,” Bochy said. “It shows his versatility and what a great teammate he is. I could’ve pitched him in the seventh and he wouldn't have said a word. That’s who he is, he's that guy.”

The 100th save meant even more when recognizing the moment it occurred. The Rangers bullpen has been notably struggling this season, and Smith has been one of the sole pieces of consistency throughout those struggles. So, with five outs remaining, the bases loaded and the series win on the line on Wednesday afternoon in Pittsburgh, Bochy turned to the same guy he trusted in his time in San Francisco.  

Due to the bullpen blowing leads or the offense having too big of one, Smith hadn’t pitched in nearly eight days. So, before the finale against the Pirates, he poked his head into Bochy’s office and asked if he could play that day. 

But he still didn’t expect it to happen like it did. 

“He said I had two innings and I thought he was joking, but we had five outs," Smith said. "It definitely got the adrenaline going. It's kind of a super, super adrenaline rush. It was just nice to not cash in those runs and hold the lead.”

Bochy, for what it’s worth, was actually joking when he told Smith he would pitch two innings that day. But when the situation called for it, Smith rose to the occasion. 

“I put Smitty in a tough spot there,” Bochy said. “He hadn't pitched in about a week, so I was a little concerned about his command. But I mean, what a job he did to bail us out there. That’s big for us and a big save for him, number 100.”