Austin Pruitt now owns one of the strangest — and rarest — stats in all of baseball history.
The Tampa Bay Rays have been experimenting with an “opener.” For those who don’t know, that means they have been starting games with relief pitcher Sergio Romo and then turning the ball over to a regular starter (or sometimes another reliever) to continue the game. The logic is that the first three outs are just as important as any other three outs. If you use one of your best relief pitchers to get the first three or four batters — usually the best hitters on the opposing team — your regular starter can go deeper into the game without having to face those dangerous hitters for a third time.
On Sunday, Romo started against the Balitmore Orioles and actually got shelled for three early runs and only recorded a single out. He was relieved by Vidal Nuno, who pitched three scoreless innings as the Rays’ offense scored six runs of their own in the third inning. With just a single out in the fourth inning (or 14 outs to go assuming the Rays held the lead, for those counting), they turned the ball over to Austin Pruitt with 7-3 lead.
Pruitt pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings, giving up just three hits while striking out five. He didn’t give up a single walk, either. The most interesting part is that Pruitt was technically credited with a save for his work, despite pitching over half the game. It was just the fourth save where the pitcher threw at least five innings in the last 30 regular seasons of baseball.
It’s not the longest save appearance though. Joaquin Benoit picked up a seven-inning save for the Texas Rangers in 2002. In that game, the Rangers starter Aaron Myette left the game injured after just four pitches. Reliever Todd Van Poppel recorded the first six outs, and Benoit came into the game to start the third inning with a 4-1 lead. He threw 87 pitches and finished the game, picking up a save.
“I had one [save] last year that was three innings, but 5⅔ innings, that’s lengthy,” said Pruitt after the game, according to ESPN. He started eight games for the Rays in 2017, but all nine of his appearances this year have been in relief — often in long relief.