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On This Date in Sports: September 15, 1990: Thigpen Saves

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Bobby Thigpen of the Chicago White Sox becomes the first reliever to record 50 saves in a season as he closes a 7-4 win over the Boston Red Sox at Comiskey Park. Thigpen surpassed the old record of 46 saves set by Dave Righetti of the New York Yankees two weeks earlier. Bobby Thigpen would end the season with 57 saves. A record that would stand until 2008 when it was surpassed by Francisco Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Angels.

Bobby Thigpen was born on July 17, 1963, in Tallahassee, Florida. A member of the 1985 Mississippi State team that played in the 1985 College World Series, Thigpen was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the fourth round of the 1985 MLB Draft. Among his teammates at Mississippi State were Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, and Jeff Brantley, all played in at least one MLB All-Star Game.

 Bobby Thigpen made his debut with the White Sox in 1986; he collected seven saves in 20 games over two months. On a poor White Sox team, Bobby Thigpen collected 16 saves in 1987, and followed it up with consecutive seasons of 34 saves in 1988 and 1989, for a team that lost more than 90 games.

In 1990, the Chicago White Sox were playing their final season at Comiskey Park after 80 years. For most of the season, they battled the Oakland Athletics for first place in the American League West. However, as September arrived, they began to fade, holding a record of 83-62 under manager Jeff Torborg. The White Sox were hosting the first-place Boston Red Sox, who had a record of 80-66 for Joe Morgan.

 With Greg Harris on the mound, Boston jumped out to a 3-0 lead, as the Red Sox scored a single run in the first three innings against Greg Hibbard. Carlton Fisk singled in the third to cut the deficit to 3-1. The White Sox took the lead, with four runs in the fourth, as they shell shocked Harris with five singles. Chicago added two more runs in the fifth and led 7-3. The Red Sox scored on a wild pitch by Shawn Hillegas in the seventh inning. With the score at 7-4, Bobby Thigpen was given the ball in the ninth inning. The first two hitters Tom Brunansky and Mike Marshall, grounded out. After a Tony Pena double, pinch hitter Danny Heep struck out to end the game.

After recording his 50th save, Bobby Thigpen added another seven saves to finish with 57 saves on the season. The White Sox posted a 94-68 record, finishing nine games behind the Athletics. Bobby Thigpen had 30 in 1991, but never approached the success of the 1990 season. In fact, he only had 54 saves over his final four seasons in the majors. Thigpen’s record would stand until 2008 when Francisco Rodriguez recorded 62 saves. In 2018, Edwin Diaz of the Seattle Mariners equaled Thigpen’s 57, which still ranks second all-time.