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Inside Pitch Magazine, May/June 2023

Last Inning: Saved

by Jay Flynt

Smith Pinson of Kennesaw State University pitching in a gameIn baseball, a “save” is awarded to the relief pitcher who finishes a game and preserves a lead for the winning team while doing one of the following: 

  • Enter the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitch at least one inning.
  • Enter the game with the tying run in the on-deck circle, at the plate or on the bases.
  • Pitch at least three innings.

A pitcher cannot receive a save and a win in the same game.

The term was originally coined by general managers in the 1950s, though it simply referred to a pitcher who entered the game with a lead and finished off a win, score notwithstanding. Eventually writer Jerome Holtzman gave more specific criteria to “saves” in the early 1960s and sure enough, it became an official stat in 1969.

Regardless of the origin, there is no question that even the thought of “saving” a game can seem daunting; think of the heroics necessary to “save the game” for athletes in other sports. But that’s the life of a closer.

Nancy Pinson loved God, her family, and baseball, from the crack of the bat to the smell of the grass and everything in between. She especially loved to watch her two sons, Stone and Smith Pinson, alongside her husband Tom, who pitched at Valdosta State and in the Mets organization. Like so many other baseball parents, they helped, sacrificed, and went everywhere to watch their boys play our great American pastime. 

Smith Pinson is a long, lean righthanded hurler for Kennesaw State, who made an NCAA Regional in 2022. Pinson and his Owls had a midweek game at Georgia Southern on a Tuesday in March of 2023 and for everyone involved, it was rinse and repeat with pregame meals, loading up the bus, pregame BP and many other logistics required to play a Division I game. That went for everyone but the Pinson family in this case; they were gathered at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. You see, the baseball loving, God-fearing and altogether beloved Nancy Pinson had passed in the late morning on the 14th. 

Certainly there are a myriad  emotions that people go through upon losing a parent, let alone someone facing the rigors of being a Division I college athlete. And surely whatever time Smith Pinson needed to process his grief, he had. What would you do? 

I’ll tell you what Smith did. He got in his truck and drove it 175 miles, mostly up I-95 north, all the way to Statesboro. “Mom would have wanted me there to play.”

The game started with KSU taking an early 4-0 lead, but Georgia Southern struck back with a run in the seventh and two more in the eighth, loading the bases for what looked like a game-winning rally. KSU needed to make a pitching change. Who was the call to the bullpen for? 

Yep, Smith Pinson. The same young man whose mother had passed away early that very morning, the same one who drove two and a half hours with who knows how many thoughts and emotions running through his mind. The same young man snuffed out the rally after one batter and tossed a clean ninth inning to earn his second save of the year, in the midst of a streak where he began the 2023 season hurling 17 straight innings without allowing an earned run.

“Baseball was just our way of life growing up,” Smith adds. “My mother bought into the baseball world quickly and fell in love fast. It was something we loved, so she was determined to find the best opportunities and knowledge for us. Mom inspired me to learn as much as I could about the game, and she was just as much of a student as I was. She enjoyed talking with me and Dad about mechanics, strategies, pitch design, anything. She was a baseball nerd.

“She challenged us to attack the game—and life—in every way. First and foremost, that meant including God in whatever we did. She believed firmly in having a relationship with Jesus. Those lessons will continue to carry over into all of our lives. My mother’s love and dedication helped me get to where I am in life and the game. She helped me become a man, she taught me to work for my dreams, to talk with God about what I want in life, and to love those around you while they are here.” 


Inside Pitch Magazine is published six times per year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt association founded in 1945. Copyright American Baseball Coaches Association. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any way without prior written permission. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained herein, it is impossible to make such a guarantee. The opinions expressed herein are those of the writers.
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