Clay Holmes entered Saturday’s game in Toronto and did what he always does. He uneventfully retired the final four batters of the game on two groundouts, a strikeout, and a lineout. On the face of it, there’s nothing exciting about this kind of relief outing; people have this exact box score line all the time. However, this was special because while every other pitcher occasionally throws in a o.2 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 2 R clunker, Holmes is as close to perfection as possible.
Saturday’s appearance was Holmes’ 30th of the season. After surrendering a run on Opening Day (gasp!), he has now pitched scorelessly in 29 straight games. This broke Mariano Rivera’s Yankee record of 28 consecutive scoreless appearances. Any time someone breaks a record held by the best reliever in baseball history and greatest Yankee pitcher ever, it’s an incredible accomplishment.
In a way, he excels by pitching somewhat similarly to Rivera— relying heavily on one elite pitch. Whereas Mariano’s famous offering was an unhittable cutter, Holmes throws a sinker roughly 75% of the time. The pitch moves like a lefty’s sweeping slider, except with high-90s velocity. It generates a rare combination of whiffs and ground balls that make it nearly impossible for opponents to string together baserunners or connect for an extra-base hit.
The YES broadcast incorrectly reported that Holmes broke another Yankee record during the same game. With 31.1 consecutive scoreless innings, he did surpass Mariano’s best steak of 30.2 IP, but this is now only tied for the third-best streak in franchise history. Jack Aker threw 33 straight scoreless innings in 1969. Holmes can probably claim this record with two more blemish-free appearances.
The MLB records for scoreless innings and appearances are still rather far away, but not completely out of reach. Ryan Pressly set the mark for consecutive scoreless outings with 40 in 2019, then Josh Hader tied him earlier this month. Holmes needs 11 more, which should happen right around the All-Star break if all goes well. The record for scoreless innings is more distant. Orel Hershiser was untouched for 59 straight innings in 1988. This is a more achievable record for a starting pitcher because most relievers only throw 60-70 innings per year. For a short reliever to break it, they would need to remain untouched for nearly an entire season.
Of the three Blue Jays batters who put the ball in play against him on Saturday, two grounded out. This is a 67% groundball rate, which would be elite over the course of a full season. However, that actually lowered Holmes’ groundball rate from 82.7% to 82.1%. No pitcher in the history of baseball has generated grounders at this pace. The single-season record for groundball rate is 80%, established by fellow Yankee Zack Britton in 2016 with Baltimore.
Depending on your perspective, Britton may have set another record in 2016 that Holmes threatens. His 0.54 ERA that year was the best ever by a qualified reliever over a full season. Three pitchers topped this during the shortened 2020 season, with Devin Williams’ 0.33 leading the way. Regardless of whether you consider Britton or Williams to possess the true ERA record, Holmes’ current 0.28 mark beats them both.
In 1950, during what would become the second of five straight championship seasons, comedian Joe E. Lewis quipped, “Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for US Steel.” The 2022 club is just as automatic, seemingly winning every single day. Holmes’ perfection and emergence into an absolute shutdown closer fuels that automaticity in a way that no Yankee reliever has since Mariano. He probably can’t put up zeroes in every outing for the rest of the year, but the longer he keeps going, the more records will fall.