August 18, 1995: Tom Henke gets his 300th career save

On August 18, 1995, Tom Henke battled through arguably his toughest outing of the season to collect the 300th save of his career.

Nine months earlier, the 6-foot-5 reliever from Kansas City, Missouri, had signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Cardinals to pitch his 14th major-league season. After eight seasons in Toronto, where he had piled up 217 career saves, Henke had spent the 1993 and 1994 seasons with the Rangers, who had drafted him out of Texas State University in 1980.

To that point in his lone season with St. Louis, Henke had been dominant, posting a 1.59 ERA and 32 strikeouts through 39 2/3 innings.

The Cardinals, however, were scuffling. Heading into the August 18 series opener against the Braves, the Cardinals were just 40-63 and had lost 10 of their last 12, including six straight. Through it all, Henke remained a ninth-inning stalwart, picking up nine saves in May and six apiece in June and July. On August 10th, he picked up his 24th save of the season to bring his career total to 299.

It wasn’t until eight days later that Henke got the opportunity to collect No. 300.

The game also marked the return of Ozzie Smith, who had undergone arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder and been on the disabled list since May 18.

“It was a great feeling going back out there when you people get excited like that,” Smith said after going 1-for-4 and scoring a run. “Any time people get to their feet and give you a standing ovation, it’s a great feeling.”[1]

The Cardinals started former first-round draft pick Allen Watson against the Braves’ Kent Mercker. Watson worked in and out of trouble in the early going as the Braves stranded four baserunners in the first three innings.

In the bottom of the third, the Cardinals got on the scoreboard first when Bernard Gilkey doubled then scored on a two-out single by Brian Jordan. Braves outfielder David Justice tied the score when he led off the fourth with a solo homer to right field.

In the bottom of the fourth, catcher Scott Hemond, playing his only season in St. Louis, hit a solo home run of his own to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead. With Braves reliever Brad Clontz on the mound, Gilkey added two much-needed insurance runs in the seventh inning with a home run to left field, his 12th of the season.

Watson ran into trouble in the eighth. Marquis Grissom led off the inning with an infield single before Watson walked Jeff Blauser. After Watson retired Jose Oliva on the fly ball for the first out of the inning, Cardinals interim manager Mike Jorgensen called upon lefty specialist Tony Fossas to face Fred McGriff.

McGriff walked on five pitches, but Fossas struck out Justice for the second out of the inning. With four outs remaining in the game and the bases loaded, Jorgensen turned to Henke.

“I was as nervous tonight as I have been in a long, long time,” Henke admitted afterward.[2]

Those nerves may have explained why Henke walked the first batter he faced, Javy Lopez. That brought Grissom home and cut the Cardinals’ lead to 4-2 before Henke struck out Ryan Klesko on three pitches.

In the ninth, Henke once again appeared out of sorts, walking Mark Lemke before pinch-hitter Luis Polonia doubled to left field. With Grissom at the plate, Henke threw a wild pitch that allowed Lemke to score and cut the Cardinals’ lead to 4-3.

Henke retired Grissom on a ground ball for the first out of the inning, but then walked Blauser, putting runners at first and third for standout rookie Chipper Jones. The veteran Henke, however, got a called strike three on the Rookie of the Year candidate for the second out. That brought McGriff to the plate.

“Sometimes in that situation, when you get a big strikeout, a pitcher might let up,” Henke said. “I just wanted to make a good pitch on Freddy. We’ve been friends for a long time, from when we played together with Toronto. I knew what he could do.”[3]

Of course, McGriff knew what Henke could do as well.

“It was tough for me, hitting against him,” McGriff said. “He knows me. I come in there thinking, ‘Is he going to try to trick me? I know he’s got the fastball and the forkball. What’s he going to throw?’”[4]

Henke went with the forkball, and McGriff flied out to left field to end the game. With the 4-3 victory, Henke became the seventh pitcher in baseball history to reach 300 saves, joining Lee Smith, Jeff Reardon, Rollie Fingers, Rich Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Dennis Eckersley.

“Everybody says, ‘That’s an easy save.’ There’s no such thing,” Henke said. “I’ve had many tough ones in my career. I’ve had my so-called easy ones. I’m just glad this is over with now.”[5]

Watson earned the win after allowing two earned runs in 7 1/3 innings, lowering his ERA to 4.93.

“I finally found my mechanics,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence right now.”[6]

Mercker took the loss for the Braves after allowing two earned runs in six innings.

Henke finished the season with a 1.82 ERA to go along with 36 saves. He was awarded the Rolaids Man of the Year Award and was recognized by the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America as the J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner. He retired with 311 career saves and a 2.67 ERA.


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[1] David Wilhelm, “Cards hang on, top Braves; Henke gets his 300th save,” Belleville News-Democrat, August 19, 1995.

[2] Mike Eisenbath, “Given The Opportunity, Henke Finally Chalks Up His 300th Save,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 19, 1995.

[3] Mike Eisenbath, “Given The Opportunity, Henke Finally Chalks Up His 300th Save,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 19, 1995.

[4] Mike Eisenbath, “Given The Opportunity, Henke Finally Chalks Up His 300th Save,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 19, 1995.

[5] Mike Eisenbath, “Given The Opportunity, Henke Finally Chalks Up His 300th Save,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 19, 1995.

[6] Mike Eisenbath, “Given The Opportunity, Henke Finally Chalks Up His 300th Save,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 19, 1995.