When the Red Sox got closer Lee Smith in a December 1987 traded with the Cubs, I thought Boston’s bullpen struggles had been rectified and during the 1988 regular season, it sure looked like I was right. Lee was a beast for Boston that year, saving 29 games and finishing the season with a 2.80 ERA. But then Smith and the Red Sox fell apart in the postseason. In Game 2 of the ALCS, Smith was the loser against the A’s when he gave up three singles in the bottom of the ninth inning. Then, with Boston down three games to none, a desperate Joe Morgan brought in Smith in the ninth inning of Game 4 to to try and keep the A’s lead at one run. The big right-hander again surrendered three singles and allowed Oakland to score two huge insurance runs as the Red Sox were swept from postseason in four straight games.
The Jamestown, LA native then pitched well for the Red Sox in 1989, when he went 6-1 with 25 saves but his ERA went way up and the Red Sox missed the playoffs that year. Even though Smith had saved 54 games over the previous two seasons, the Red Sox had been expecting much more so it wasn’t a huge surprise when Boston announced they had traded him to the Cardinals for outfielder Tom Brunansky in early May of the 1990 regular season. Smith went on to enjoy three straight All Star seasons in St Louis, once again establishing himself as baseball’s dominant closer. Meanwhile, Brunansky gave Boston three OK seasons but it was the Cardinals who made out like bandits in the deal.
Smith would go on to save a record 478 big league games during his 18-season big league career which ended in 1997. That record has of course since been broken by both Trevor Hoffman and most recently, Mariano Rivera.