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It occasionally happens that a pitcher will earn a save by throwing one pitch. For example, he is brought in with two outs in the ninth and a two-run lead, and his first pitch is popped up.

In principle, it should be possible for a pitcher to earn a save without throwing a pitch at all. For instance, he could pick off a runner. We could also imagine more exotic situations: a runner abandons the base paths, or the batter attempts to use an illegal bat.

Has this ever happened?

Instances in MLB would be most interesting, but other leagues would be interesting also.

In this forum post someone suggested that Mitch Williams did this in 1989 or 1990. It looks like they are thinking of September 11, 1989, where according to the box score, Williams did earn a one-out save by picking off a runner. But unfortunately, it appears he threw one pitch to the batter first (a ball).

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It looks like this has happened once, but this is inconclusive(1).

One can find this by having a subscription to Baseball Reference and use the pitching game finder. The criteria I used was "From 1913 to 2016, Recorded Save, (requiring Pitches=0)." The pitching game finder can be accessed from the play index page on Baseball Reference.


After narrowing down my search, this looks like it happened in 1989. After finding this article on odd saves, this happened on April 28, 1989. Mitch Williams of the Chicago Cubs was awarded the save without making a single pitch. This is the only time in MLB history this took place.

Details:

The Save Without Throwing A Pitch: Mitch Williams, April 28th, 1989: Chicago Cubs vs. San Diego

The 'Wild Thing' is the only man ever to record a save without throwing a pitch. He came in to the ninth inning with two outs and the Cubs 3-1 up, but the Padres were threatening, with men on first and second. Don't worry about them, Mitch - just get the man at the pla... Or pick-off a guy before sending anything at all to the plate. That works too. What must have been particularly galling for the Padres, is that the guy caught napping was the man on second, whose run meant absolutely nothing, and who should therefore have been nailed to the base.

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    Very good! I had looked at Williams's entire game log for 1989 but I apparently overlooked this one. Pretty amazing that he got a second one-out pickoff save later that same year, even if the second one did require throwing a pitch. – Nate Eldredge Sep 11 '16 at 23:03

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