A relief pitcher who comes in to a game with a lead and protects it until the end of the game, can be credited with a save under the particular situations described in scoring rule 10.19.
Below are the specific circumstances that must be met:
- last pitcher in the game (*)
- his team wins the game
- does not qualify to be the winner
- AND one of the following:
a) pitches 1 or more innings with a lead of 3 or less runs
b) pitches 3 innings
c) comes into game with tying run on deck
The first 3 points are obvious. It’s rule 4 that can cause confusion.
Point (a) is the “standard” save – closer comes in to pitch the 9th inning to protect a small lead.
Point (b) is somewhat controversial. If a pitcher, often a mop up man, comes into the game in the 7th inning with say a 12 run lead, he can give up 11 runs and if he finishes the game, will be credited with a save.
Point (c) is used when a pitcher pitches less than an inning, but it’s a potentially tight situation. For example, coming in with 1 out in the 9th, bases loaded, and just a 1 run lead. If he protects the lead, he gets the save, even though he pitched less than the 1 inning required by point (a). Sometimes, these saves are a lot less well deserved than this. Coming in with 2 outs and a 5 run lead would also be a save situation, if the bases were loaded. Or 2 outs, a 3 run lead and just a runner on first base.
(*) there’s also a clause that the pitcher must record at least 1 out. I can’t think of a situation where the finishing pitcher does not get an out, unless right after he comes into the game, it is called on account of rain.