On July 4, Jeurys Familia pitched through a bit of a nail-biter to record his 45th consecutive save. It was more of the same from the Mets closer, who seems to have a nasty habit of putting baserunners on before pulling a Houdini act to escape the jam (particularly in 2016). Nonetheless, he has yet to blow a save in the regular season since Justin Upton’s three-run homer destroyed what was already a drenched mess of a game last July 30. The streak is a Mets record and now the fifth-longest such run in baseball history; with 10 more in a row, he will pass Tom Gordon and move into second behind Eric Gagne’s unbelievable 84-save streak.
Given Familia’s tendency to offer opponents a chance to come back, it’s pretty incredible that Familia has gone this long without blowing a save. (Obviously the 2015 World Series throws a slight asterisk into the streak, but hey, so did the 2003 All-Star Game with Gagne.) Although the save statistic might sometimes be weird, it is still a remarkable feat to go almost a calendar year without a blown save in the regular season. Not even Mariano Rivera saved this many games in a row.
Reaching 45 straight saves hasn’t been easy though. As with any streak, Familia has come close to losing it on a number of occasions. I looked at the game situations for each of the 45 saves and determined which five were the most precarious, based on the position of the go-ahead run and the threat at the plate. The honorable mention definitely goes out to the 1.7-inning save against the Marlins on April 13, in which an exhausted Familia pitched for the third day in a row.
Familia’s save streak was over almost instantly thanks to the Baltimore Orioles. A top of the ninth rally allowed Terry Collins to sit Familia down and keep Tyler Clippard in the game with a 5-1 lead. A fly ball was followed by a walk and a single though, so in came Familia. He struck out Jonathan Schoop and induced a ground ball to second that seemingly wrapped it up. However, both Kelly Johnson and Lucas Duda broke for the ball, so the first baseman was slow to return to his position (where Familia also ran over to cover).
Duda did not have his foot on the bag when he received Johnson’s throw, so the inning continued with the bases loaded. A four-run lead was cut to two on agonizing back-to-back walks to J.J. Hardy and Henry Urrutia. Familia incredibly managed to walk the eighth and ninth hitters in the Orioles’ lineup despite neither having an OBP over .260. The tying run was on second and the winning run was on first with one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball coming up in Manny Machado.
The Camden Yards crowd was in an uproar, but after working the count to 2-2, Machado could only bounce out to Daniel Murphy at third base. This game is the only two-run victory among the five mentioned, but Familia definitely made it tense.
Finishing off what ended up being a last-place Red Sox team should not have been too difficult, especially since the first two hitters in the ninth are both currently in the minor leagues. However, both Rusney Castillo and Blake Swihart managed to single off Familia in a 5-4 game. Famillia struck out future teammate Alejandro De Aza without a problem, but pinch-hitter Travis Shaw worked him to a full count before grounding into a force at second.
The Mets were unable to turn a double play, so the Red Sox had a tremendous chance with the scalding hot Mookie Betts up next. Betts recorded 68 extra base hits in 2015; it would not have required a stretch of the imagination to imagine another one in this situation to take the lead. Undeterred, Familia reared back and fired a pitch 100 mph right past Betts on a 1-2 count to end it in style on a strikeout.
The Nationals welcomed the Mets to town for a pivotal three-game series in early September. A sweep from one of the teams would either bring Washington within a game of the Mets or effectively end the NL East race. New York did their part by winning the September 7 opener 8-5 with Familia securing the save, and the next day, they overcame a 7-1 deficit with six runs in the seventh and a Kirk Nieuwenhuis homer off Jonathan Papelbon to give them the 8-7 lead.
Famillia entered for the ninth, but the game was not over yet. Jayson Werth singled up the middle and Familia fell behind Anthony Rendon 3-1. With an amazing disregard for baseball savvy, Matt Williams elected to have Rendon bunt. (Keep in mind that Rendon was a sixth overall pick and had precisely four bunts in his professional career, even going back to the minors.) Familia understandably pitched around the NL MVP in Bryce Harper, who could have easily won it with a homer. The go-ahead run was on base, but an inferior hitter was up next in Yunel Escobar.
Familia quickly jumped ahead of Escobar 0-2 and got the ground ball he needed. The Mets turned two, won the game, and swept the Nationals away the following evening.
Terry Collins hoped that he didn’t have to use Familia for the fourth time in five days on April 15. Much like the tense Orioles game of last August, the ninth began with someone other than Familia on the mound. Addison Reed had a 6-2 lead and despite a leadoff single, victory appeared to be imminent after two quick outs. Down to Cleveland’s last out, Carlos Santana crushed a two-run homer on the first pitch he saw to make it a 6-4 game.
So Familia entered to shut the door. Then Yan Gomes singled and moved to second on a wild pitch. Marlon Byrd cracked a hit of his own to score Gomes. Only one run separated the teams now, and Collin Cowgill pinch-ran for Byrd. Familia lost the plate with Juan Uribe up, walking him on four pitches. Jose Ramirez did not start the game for Cleveland, but he was the next man to face Familia.
Ramirez is not a household name, but thus far in 2016, he has been a fine hitter with a .279 Total Average. A game-tying single was not out of the question at all. Fortunately, Familia stopped Cleveland in their tracks at last, inducing a fly ball to Curtis Granderson to escape.
The greatest threat to Familia’s streak might very well have been just a few days ago. The Mets were clinging to a one-run lead against the Cubs, the best team in baseball so far in 2016. Trailing 4-1 in the seventh, the Mets rallied against John Lackey and the bullpen to jump ahead 4-3. Jerry Blevins wiggled out of a Reed-induced jam in the eighth by getting Jason Heyward to ground out with the tying run in scoring position.
Familia began the ninth by walking pinch-hitter Miguel Montero, an ominous start with the top of the Cubs’ power-laden lineup soon to follow. Ben Zobrist smoked a double off the base of the right-field wall. It might have scored a faster player, but the best pinch-runner the Cubs had from the bench was a pitcher, Travis Wood. So Wood was stopped at third base.
Kris Bryant was the batter, a man quite capable of ruining many Citi Field fans’ nights. Familia struck him out swinging though, allowing Collins to call for an intentional walk of Anthony Rizzo to face rookie Willson Contreras. Familia fanned Contreras as well, giving the Cubs one last hope in Javier Baez. He got his pitch:
It was an absolute cookie, asking to be destroyed.
Baez popped it up. Game over. Familia jumped in excitement several time and pumped his arms. The streak was alive—just barely.
Long may it reign.
Photo Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports