Reliever Eduardo Sanchez has captured the fancy of St. Louis Cardinals fans since his promotion from Triple-A Memphis last Wednesday. It is for good reason, as the Venezuelan native fanned eight of his first 11 batters faced over his first two outings as a major leaguer.
With the corresponding high-visibility failings of closer Ryan Franklin, the 22-year-old has the support of some to be given a shot at the ninth inning for St. Louis despite his inexperience. Sanchez is our fourth-ranked prospect in the Cardinals system.
In our poll here at The Cardinal Nation Blog, Sanchez has garnered 21% percent of the fan vote for closer, in third place after leader Mitchell Boggs (29%). The second highest number of votes have been cast for a committee approach (27%), of which Sanchez would presumably be a part.
Only 11 pitchers collected a save in any of their first three games pitching in relief for St. Louis since at least 1950. Sanchez still could join them and make it a round dozen, if given a chance on Tuesday night as the Cardinals entertain Washington.
Across MLB, the save-in-the-first-three-relief-games club is much larger, numbering 177 hurlers in the last 50 years alone.
Since at least 1950, only one Cardinal earned a save in each of his first three relief appearances, none other than Californian John Goody Urrea.
Like Sanchez, Urrea was just 22 years of age at the time of his MLB debut. The organization’s first-round draft pick in 1974, 14th overall, leapt over Triple-A to join the 1977 Cardinals out of spring training. Though a starter in the minors, Urrea was called upon to break in by pitching out of the bullpen.
The right-hander collected saves in his first three games – on April 10, 14 and 17. Over the next three months, the rookie made 25 more appearances in relief, collecting another save and three wins, but also his first three blown saves and a trio of losses as well.
In late July, manager Vern Rapp moved Urrea into the rotation, where he made a dozen starts before another relief outing on the season’s final day. The Cardinals went 8-4 in his starts.
Urrea was one of seven Cardinals with saves in 1977. His four saves tied for third on the club with Al Hrabosky, the team leader with ten. It was The Mad Hungarian’s final season with St. Louis as the battle with management over his Fu Manchu reached the boiling point.
Over the 1978-80 seasons, Urrea split his time between being a starter in Triple-A and a swing man with St. Louis, moving more and more toward relief.
In the 1980-81 off-season, along with Terry Kennedy and others, Urrea was part of a ten-player trade with San Diego which netted the Cardinals Gene Tenace and future Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers. The latter was quickly spun off to Milwaukee by the new sheriff in town, Whitey Herzog.
After spending 1981 in the Padres’ bullpen, Urrea was released at the end of 1982 spring training. That ended his time in organized ball as he finished with nine career saves, a record of 17-18 and an ERA of 3.74 in 139 games, 101 with St. Louis.
Researcher Tom Orf pulled for me the 11 Cardinals pitchers since 1950 to collect at least one save in their first three relief appearances. The most recent and the only Cardinal since Urrea to accomplish it was Brad Thompson in his 2005 debut. It was the only save of Thompson’s six-year major league career.
Ex-Reds star Wayne Granger, originally a Cardinals farmhand, would go on to collect the most lifetime saves of the group with 108. The other ten would total just 55 over their respective careers.
St. Louis Cardinals relievers, save in any of first three career games, 1950-current
We will see on Tuesday night if Sanchez joins this “elite” group, or over time can perhaps surpass them all, including John Urrea.