"Because I'm pitching 65 or 70 innings a season now, that isn't my fault," he says. "This is what the job is now." And where is it going? The Chicago White Sox's 28-year-old stopper, Bobby Thigpen—whose 57 saves in 65 opportunities in 1990 are two records unlikely to be broken in this century—need average only a conservative 28 saves per season to reach 400 by the time he's 36.
Onetime starter Dennis Eckersley, now the stopper for the Oakland A's, reached 200 saves faster than any reliever in history. It has taken him little more than five seasons. Eckersley's manager, Tony La Russa, has a reputation among American League relievers for finding the cushiest of save situations in which to pitch the Eck. "People look at a three-run lead and say it's an easy save," says Eckersley, "but in this job you can't afford to have one bad inning, the way a starter can."
"There is no such thing as an easy save," says La Russa indignantly. "The rule is defined to prevent that. They are all hard."
Reardon, though, is a bit more forthright. "I'm not stupid," he says, "I know-some are easier than others. I get more enjoyment out of a tough two-or one-run game than when it's 6-2 with two guys on base. But that's just the way we're used."
Those who argue that saves are too easy and cheesy, that the stat is so much hype and tripe, might cite consecutive saves by Reardon in May. On the 18th he entered with a 3-0 lead against the Seattle Mariners, promptly yielded a double and a two-run dinger but nevertheless got the parenthetical S after his name in the next morning's box score. The next night he was credited with a-save for throwing one pitch.
This isn't an entirely modern phenomenon. The Washington Senators' Fred (Firpo) Marberry was the Jeff Reardon of the Jazz Age, the most dominant relief pitcher of the 1920s. According to one report he once "saved" games on three consecutive days in Cleveland while throwing a total of five pitches.
But today's game is fairly designed for such scenarios. If Boston encounters a save situation, Reardon will pitch—and, most likely, pitch no more than one inning. (Former Cub manager Herman Franks may have begun this trend in the late 1970s, first by overworking Sutter and then using the arm-weary stopper no more than an inning at a time.) If you are any other relief pitcher for the Red Sox, you will close about as often as Denny's. Conversely, Reardon has only pitched four times this season in nonsave situations, and in two of those games the score was tied when he came in. But that is not because he is unwilling to pitch whenever called upon—unlike one marquee reliever, who is said to have told his manager this spring that he wanted to pitch no more than one inning in any appearance.
Mercifully, such monsters remain the exception. But should they multiply, get used to them, because the save rule is here to stay. "It's not perfect," says Holtzman, "but I always tell people to show me a better formula. So far, nobody has."
"The save leaves just enough room for a little error," says Olson of the Orioles. "It's amazing how quickly that room for error is gone."
Say this much. They stick together, these guys. "I get a kick out of the good ol' boys like [California's Bryan] Harvey and Olson and [the Toronto Blue Jays' Tom] Henke," says Thigpen. "That's because I'm one too. About the only one who doesn't talk much is Reardon, but that's just the way he is. It's not that he doesn't like us or we're the enemy. I was shagging in the outfield once, and he was out jogging. We had a nice talk for quite a while about everything. But that was about the only time."