After Nationals closer Tyler Clippard notched his 30th save of the season by tossing his disappearing change-up to Josh Vitters for a strikeout on Monday, he high-fived catcher Kurt Suzuki and his teammates. He made sure to save the ball, tuck it away as a keepsake, just like he has done with each of his saves this season.
This was a memorable milestone, not just because he got the final three outs that guaranteed the first winning season in Washington since 1969, but because it was a nice, big round number for Clippard, a reliever who was thrust into the closer’s role until late May, seven weeks into the season. It was a job the Nationals’ most valuable reliever over the past two seasons felt like he had earned the right to audition for when injuries and inconsistency claimed three closers before him, Drew Storen, Henry Rodriguez and Brad Lidge. It was a job the one-time setup man with only one save before this season had a burning desire to try. And now, he is 10th in the majors with 30 saves in 34 tries, flourishing as a first-time closer.
“It’s a nice feather on the cap,” Clippard said following the game. “I think, more importantly, it’s been fun to contribute to a lot of the wins we’ve had this year. That’s the most fun part for me.”
Clippard joins Chad Cordero and Storen as the only Nationals closers to notch that many saves in a season. Cordero did it twice: 47 saves in 2005 and 37 in 2007. Storen saved 43 games last season, often crediting Clippard for locking down the eighth inning. And now, after Storen suffered an elbow injury in April, Clippard joins that list.
“Impressive,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “I think obviously him and Drew were kind of the eighth- and ninth-inning guys the past couple years. He’s been a big part of this team as far as kind of being the closer in the eighth inning. Obviously nothing compares to getting the last three outs. It’s the hardest thing to do in this sport. But those two guys, the stuff that they have, the makeups that they have, both of those guys are as good as they come for the eighth and ninth inning.”
If Clippard had been the closer to start the season, he could have as many as 43 saves at his current rate, which would lead the majors now.
“That’s a huge amount, because he didn’t close the first five weeks or something,” Manager Davey Johnson said of Clippard’s 30 saves. “I know he’s counting them.”