Having explained to cricket aficionados the concept of the pitcher winning or losing a game, let me give an explanation of the save and say something about those who are successful at it.
Once upon a time, there were no statistics kept on “saves,” and relief pitchers, the pitchers who replace the original starting pitcher or one another in succession, though valued, were not the super-specialists that they are in Major League Baseball today.
Basically, a save is granted to the pitcher that closes out a win for his team. These closers work under great stress in tight games. Without question, the king of the closers is Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees. He has redefined the role since 1997, when he was moved from set-up man to closer. The present owner of the most saves over a career is not Rivera, however. It is Trevor Hoffman.
Closers are typically right-handed and throw hard since tricky pitches, like knuckleballs or “splitters” from southpaws, can often confuse catchers; and there is no room for confusion with the game on the line. There is a little more to a save than closing out a game. After all, where’s the stress in pitching the final inning of a 12-to-2 blowout? The closer must pitch three innings or, more typically, be summoned with men on base and his team up by three runs or fewer in the eighth or the ninth inning. The calculation of the save possibly includes other situations. But this is it in a nutshell.
Some of the great relief pitchers, once called “firemen” after Joe Page and for obvious reasons, whose careers preceded the ultra-specialized era of the closer, also include: Hoyt Wilhelm, lefty Luis Arroyo, Ron Perranoski, “The Monster” Dick Radatz, Tug McGraw, Sparky Lyle, Dan Quisenberry, Rollie Ringers, “The Goose” Rich Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Dennis Eckersley. Lee Smith, like Gosssage, is something of a transitional figure between the old-time firemen and the modern closers.