Is Jason Motte in a class with Lee Smith among closers? We’re about to find out.
Motte, who had 42 saves for the 2012 Cardinals, will seek to become in 2013 just the second St. Louis closer to record 40 saves in consecutive seasons.
Motte is one of four Cardinals to achieve 40 saves in a year. The others are Bruce Sutter (45 in 1984), Lee Smith (47 in 1991, 43 in 1992 and 43 in 1993) and Jason Isringhausen (47 in 2004).
On Sept. 22, 1992, at Pittsburgh, Smith earned his 40th save of the year and became the first National Leaguer to achieve consecutive 40-save seasons.
“I guess they’ll be expecting it every year now,” Smith said to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Bobby Thigpen (of the White Sox) went from 57 (saves in 1990) to about 35 (30 in 1991) and they booed him out of town. I hope I’m not putting too much pressure on myself.”
In four previous appearances against the 1992 Pirates, Smith had gotten the loss in three of those games. This time, he retired all three batters he faced in the ninth _ Don Slaught, Gary Varsho and Dave Clark _ on fly outs, sealing a 5-4 Cardinals victory and a win for starter Rheal Cormier. The victory was only the Cardinals’ third in 18 games against the 1992 Pirates.
“Sanity-wise, this was important,” Smith said.
Still, the historic save didn’t come without drama. When Clark lined a drive to right-center, right fielder Felix Jose, thinking center fielder Ray Lankford would make the catch, pulled up rather than pursued the ball. Lunging for it at the last moment, Jose snared it.
“I wasn’t going to get to it,” Lankford said afterward. Boxscore
In 1993, Smith had an ERA of 4.66 when he earned his 40th save of the year on Aug. 14 at Montreal. Smith became the first National League pitcher with three successive 40-save seasons and was the fastest to 40 of any big-league pitcher. Smith got that 40th save in the Cardinals’ 117th game, breaking the record of 118 established by Thigpen with the White Sox in 1990.
Smith had a perfect ninth, striking out Larry Walker, getting Moises Alou to ground out and John Vander Wal to pop out to short, in saving a 2-0 Cardinals victory and a sixth consecutive win for rookie Allen Watson. Boxscore
“I threw a slider that actually broke,” Smith said. “Usually, I have people nibbling on their nails.”
The save was Smith’s 395th of his career. (He would finish with 478 in 18 seasons.) He kept the game ball.
“For a guy who’s been pitching like a caveman, 40 saves isn’t too bad,” Smith said.
Less than three weeks later, the Cardinals traded Smith to the Yankees for pitcher Rich Batchelor. Smith’s three-year, $8 million contract was expiring after the season and the Cardinals, not expecting to re-sign him before he entered free agency, decided to get a player for him in return.