Wednesday, December 17, 2008

R.I.P. Dave Smith is reporting long-time Astros reliever Dave Smith has passed away of an apparent heart attack in San Diego.

An 8th round selection by the Astros in the 1976 amateur draft, Smith debuted for the Astros on April 11, 1980 at the Astrodome against the Dodgers, walking the first two batters he saw as a Major Leaguer. Then Rudy Law singled, loading the bases. After a popout to the catcher, Smith got Steve Garvey to ground out to short to end the inning. The Astros scored five runs in the bottom of the inning and Smith got his first win in his first Major League appearance.

Smith's first save came two months later, a three-inning affair (early '80s style) where the Astros won 2-1. He finished fifth in the 1980 Rookie of the Year voting (Jeff Reardon finished 6th) and got his first of two All-Star nominations in the Astros' landmark 1986 season, where he notched 33 saves and a 2.73 ERA. 1987 was even better, as he lowered his ERA over a run per game - to 1.65.

He did take the loss in Game 5 of the 1986 NLCS. The Astros were up 5-4 in the bottom of the 9th and leadoff batter Wally Backman reached first on a bunt single, two batters later Lenny Dykstra homered (which would only have tied the game, had the bunt been fielded cleanly) and closed out the 9th inning and pitched the 10th inning of that legendary Game Six, obviously allowing no runs.

Smith ended his career in 1992 with the Cubs, but finished in the Top 10 in the NL in Saves seven times in 12 full seasons and 216 saves. Here are his franchise ranks:

ERA: 3rd
WHIP: 9th
Hits/9: 9th
Games: 1st
Saves: 2nd

Smith was THE closer for the Astros in the 1980s, and our answer to Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage. 39 of his relief appearances were 3 innings or more. 8 appearances were 4 innings or more, and on three occasions Smith pitched 5 innings. Let's be honest here, how many of you were truly happy if Backe or Wandy went five innings?

Says Charlie Kerfeld: "He was probably one of the most giving people I ever met."

Says Jim Deshaies: "Smitty was unbelievably generous."

Respect. Have a Dave Smith memory? Post it here.