Maybe this one should be published under the heading of strange but true. It is definitely strange and it is definitely true.
Oakland A’s pitcher Chad Smith had a long day a couple of weeks ago when the major league baseball team called him up from Triple A Las Vegas. Smith was not a rookie. He had already made 16 appearances for the Colorado Rockies in 2021. He was simply getting his second shot at pitching for a major league team.
The day proved to be quite long for Smith as he awoke at 2:45 a.m. to get to the airport to catch a flight to Oakland. He had no idea he would be called on to pitch that night in a relief appearance for the A’s against the Baltimore Orioles.
And in making that appearance, Smith became part of a strange decision that resulted in the use of a rarely used rule of the sport. I will start at the beginning to explain what happened.
Smith was called into the game against Baltimore to pitch the final two innings with Oakland leading 7-4. The A’s had just scored three runs in the top of the eighth inning to break a 4-4 tie. Smith pitched two innings, allowed one hit and held Baltimore scoreless. Overall, despite the lack of sleep, Smith had what he called a “decent” day on the mound.
Let’s back up a little further in the game. Ken Waldichuk was the starting pitcher for Oakland that day. Waldichuk lasted into the seventh inning. Waldichuk was winning 4-2 with one out in the seventh inning and a runner on first base when the A’s sent in reliever Jeurnys Familia to halt a Baltimore rally.
After a passed ball moved the runner to second base, pinch-hitter Cedric Mullins had an RBI single. And after a ground out moved Mullins to second base, Baltimore’s Adley Rutschman had an RBI single to tie the game. Familia then got Ryan Mountcastle to ground out to end the inning.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Oakland scored three runs to take its 7-3 lead while Familia was the pitcher of record and before Smith entered the game to pitch the final two innings.
So Familia is the winning pitcher and Smith, at best, becomes the pitcher that earned a save. Right? Oh, no, it is wrong.
You see, there is a little-known and little-used rule that allows the game’s official scorer to not have to do things quite like you expect - sometimes under certain conditions.
A story on ESPN’s website explains the following:
“According to Rule 9.17 (c): “The official scorer shall not credit as the winning pitcher a relief pitcher who is ineffective in a brief appearance, when at least one succeeding relief pitcher pitches effectively in helping his team maintain its lead. In such a case, the official scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher the succeeding relief pitcher who was most effective, in the judgment of the official scorer.”
“The rule book also says: “The official scorer generally should, but is not required to, consider the appearance of a relief pitcher to be ineffective and brief if such relief pitcher pitches less than one inning and allows two or more earned runs to score (even if such runs are charged to a previous pitcher).”
There is no argument that Familia was “ineffective in a brief appearance.” He was only in the game for two outs, not even a whole inning. He allowed Baltimore to score two earned runs to tie the game. One of the runs belonged to Waldichuk and one run was Familia’s.
The official scorer, knowing of this obscure rule, decided to use it and gave the win to Smith instead of Familia.
Smith thought he had gotten a save. That is what he would have gotten under normal circumstances, but because Familia had blown his opportunity to stop Baltimore from rallying to tie the game.
So in a strange but true story, Smith got the win. Here’s to hoping his next win is of the more traditional style.