Every time Addison Reed enters a game in a save situation, right before he takes the field, he hears a number being called out by his bullpen coach, former White Sox closer Bobby Thigpen.
“Let’s get number one,” Thigpen said on Opening Day, a 1-0 White Sox victory over Kansas City.
“It’s your time. Go get number two!” Thigpen shouted to Reed as he broke from the bullpen in the very next game, a 5-2 White Sox winner.
Thigpen knows that records are made to be broken. His 57 saves in 1990 set a major league record that lasted for 18 years, until Francisco Rodriguez shattered it in 2008. Thigpen still owns the White Sox single-season mark, but every time he hollers out a number to Reed, he knows his precious record is one save closer to possibly becoming history.
“It’s kind of cool. He counts them down for me,” says Reed, smiling.
“Today if he gets in, it’s going to be number 12. Let's go get number 12,” adds Thigpen, in his first season as White Sox bullpen coach.
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Two days later, there was Reed in Minnesota, pitching a scoreless ninth inning against the Twins for his 12th save. Thursday night he pitched a perfect ninth against the Angels for his 13th save. It puts him on a pace to finish the season with 54 saves, which would fall short of Thigpen’s record. But if the White Sox can start putting some wins together, who knows?
“It's a good goal to shoot for. Even if he wasn't my coach,” says Reed, who isn’t afraid to admit he wants to break Thigpen’s save record.
He’ll even say it to his face.
“Now that he’s out there [in the bullpen], it will make it a little better if I can give him a run for his money.”
Fortunately, both player and coach have a sense of humor.
“We kind of joke around. I tell him I’m going to go after his record,” Reed explains. “He says that if I have 55 or 56 saves going into the last couple games, he’s going to tell [White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper] that I'm hurt and I can't pitch so I can't get it.”
“That's our bet,” says Thigpen. “He's blown one save, and after the game the next day I said I gave you a chance and now you're going to get 56, you're not going to get 57. I also told him, you can get 57 for this year, but when you do, you're done for the rest of year. I mean, I'll let you tie it, but I won't let you break it.”
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Reed, a California native, grew up idolizing former Angels closer Troy Percival. But after learning as a youngster about Thigpen’s save record, which occurred when Addison was all of one year old, “I started paying attention to him, and seeing what he did.”
Selected by the White Sox in the third round of the 2010 draft, Reed flew through the team’s minor league system in 2011, playing for five different teams, eventually making it to the majors that September. One of his stops along the way was in Winston-Salem, the White Sox high Class-A affiliate where Thigpen was the pitching coach.
Reed was only there a month, but the two immediately clicked and Thigpen noticed the potential of this young pitcher.
“He’s just a special guy,” Thigpen says of Reed. “Just to watch him, the way he went about his world, the way he got things done, you just knew there were great things destined for him.”
There’s probably a coach out there who once said the same thing about Thigpen.
Now the White Sox saves leader is back in Chicago, manning the bullpen in which he once starred, and he’s passing along his knowledge to the student who wants to surpass him.
“He tells me to go right after them, and don’t be scared of anybody,” Reed says of Thigpen. “It doesn’t matter who’s up there. It could be the best hitter in the world. Just go right after him.”
Then Reed gives Thigpen the ultimate compliment.
“He’s by far the best coach I’ve ever worked with.”
So the next time they find themselves in a close game in the late innings and the White Sox have a lead, Reed will take his warm-up pitches, Robin Ventura will make the call to the pen, and Thigpen will like nothing more than to utter the following words:
“Go get number 13.”
May the countdown continue.