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The perfect timing of Emmet Sheehan’s 4-inning save

Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Emmet Sheehan pitched the final four innings of the Dodgers’ win over the A’s Thursday night to finish off a sweep. A lot of things had to align for the appearance to happen, let alone for him to finish the team’s first four-inning save in almost four years.

It’s no secret I’m a fan of the three-inning save. I’ve written about the quirkiness and the beautiful functionality of the stat. I have a podcast — with co-host Jacob Burch, producer Brian Salvatore, and questions from Craig Minami — named The Three-Inning Save, after all. I like four-inning saves, too, but it’s too clunky to rename the podcast The At Least Three-Inning Save.

We even did an episode on a five-inning save by Charlie Hough, the longest save in Dodgers history. Rules were a bit different back then.

With Ryan Yarbrough’s arrival coming in San Diego, and Clayton Kershaw likely starting next week in Arizona, Sheehan and Michael Grove’s time in the rotation, and very likely the roster, are coming to a close soon. Manager Dave Roberts already said Grove will be available out of the bullpen this weekend against the Padres. Grove last pitched Sunday, but Sheehan last pitched Saturday, so he had four days of rest heading into Thursday’s game.

Before the game, Roberts told reporters that because Julio Urías was dealing with a left finger issue that limited him to just one bullpen session in the previous eight days, the left-hander would go at most five innings. This was perfect for a piggyback situation for Sheehan, no matter the score, in an attempt to ease the burden on the bullpen on day three of 13 game days in a row.

Urías was efficient and effective enough to get through five innings, and did so in scoreless fashion. But he left with only a 2-0 lead, with the game very much in the balance. Two runs is the closest game a Dodgers four-inning saver has entered since Roman Troncoso did the damn-near impossible — protecting a one-run lead with four scoreless innings at Coors Field in 2009.

Sheehan allowed a solo home run to Zack Gelof in the sixth that made it a one-run game, that meant his chances for a four-inning save were dwindling, either by potentially getting pulled from the game or surrendering the lead if he remained in.

The Dodgers offense made that a moot point with six hits in a four-run sixth inning to provide the comfortable cushion we’re used to seeing in a four-inning save situation.

Sheehan did allow one more solo home run, but gave up nothing else to complete his four innings on an efficient 56 pitches. Since saves became an official statistic in 1969, the Dodgers have had 46 saves of at least four innings. That’s under one per season, and Sheehan’s was the first since Kenta Maeda on September 2, 2019.

“I thought he was throwing the ball with conviction tonight,” Roberts told reporters Thursday night, per SportsNet LA. “There’s no easing your way into the game.”

Long saves are fashionable again, it seems. Sheehan’s was the 25th save of at least three innings this season, only three shy of last year’s total for the full season. Andre Jackson had two three-inning saves for the Dodgers earlier this season, before getting shipped off to Pittsburgh.

Sheehan’s future isn’t so grim. Even after he was optioned Friday to Triple-A Oklahoma City when Yarbrough was activated, Sheehan had a good last week or so to build on, with five scoreless innings last Saturday against the Reds before his innings-eating save on Thursday.

For Urías to get through five innings with a lead, for the Dodgers offense to break open a close game after Sheehan’s first inning, for the timing to work out that Sheehan was asked to pitch so long, a lot had to go right for this four-inning save to happen.