Today in Orioles History: Lee Smith saves the day

When Lee Smith signed a one-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles for the 1994 season, he already had over 400 saves in his career and had led the league in saves in three different seasons. He was 36 years old when he played with the Orioles, but he still had a few more good seasons in him.

Smith got his first save as an Oriole on Opening Day 1994, and going into the game on April 23rd he had saved eight games without allowing an earned run or giving up a walk.

The O's played the Seattle Mariners on April 23, 1994, a game started by Sid Fernandez. Fernandez gave up three runs over 7.2 innings, and Smith entered the game in the 9th with a one-run lead. Smith didn't have any trouble with the Mariners batters as he retired Mike Blowers, Eric Anthony, and pinch hitter Reggie Jefferson in order. It was a run-of-the-mill save and Smith's 9th of the season. What makes it special is that it's the fastest that any pitcher had reached nine saves in major-league history.

Smith's fast start was a portent of his successful season with the Orioles in which he saved 33 games, leading the league. Because the season was shortened due to the players' strike, only 112 games were played, and the Orioles ended up with a 63-49 season, meaning that Smith had a hand in over half of the team's wins.

There are plenty of valid reasons to discount the save as a statistic, and rightly so. But regardless of your personal believes on the save, there is no doubt that Lee Smith made a career of stabilizing bullpens and providing a reliable arm at the end of a game. He's most remembered as a Cub, but his one season with the Orioles was a memorable one. And if the season hadn't ended prematurely with the Orioles in 2nd place, who knows? Maybe they would have made a late-season run and he would have helped them to the playoffs as well.

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