Sunday, March 22, 2009

Title (Oops, forgot to put a real one...)

What do former Giants and Royals pitcher Ryan Jensen and knuckleballer Joe Niekro have in common? They're the only pitchers in the last 30 years to bat six times in one game.

It's not common, but every year there are a few pitchers to bat five times in one game. In fact, since 2000 that's happened seventy-seven times. Only one of those pitchers (Adam Wainwright last August) did so in the 8th spot in the lineup. No matter where the pitcher bats, coming up to the plate that often in one game takes both the pitcher's offense going through the order quickly and effective pitching by the pitcher so he can stay in the game. Obviously, batting six times in one game requires even better offense.

Ryan Jensen's 6 PA game occurred on July 2, 2002. The Giants were playing the Rockies at Coors Field and their offense teed off on Colorado starter Denny Neagle. San Francisco scored eight runs in the first inning on seven hits, including a Tsuyoshi Shinjo grand slam and Jensen double. Neagle left after the Giants followed up with two runs in the second inning. San Francisco wound up scoring 18 runs on 23 hits; Jensen batted in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, and 9th innings, going 1 for 5 with a sacrifice. He pitched a complete game, giving up five runs on eleven hits and throwing 114 pitches. Here's some Coors Field nostalgia: there were ten home runs in the game.

Joe Niekro's 6 PA game took place in Shea Stadium on July 28, 1985. The Astros didn't score more than three runs in any inning, but they rallied enough to defeat the Mets 12-4. Niekro batted in the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 9th, going 0 for 5 with a walk. He allowed eight hits and four runs on the mound, striking out three and walking two.

Pitchers used to get six PA in one game a little more often. Though it's happened only forty-four times since 1956, twenty-seven of those happened between 1956 and 1965. It really tailed off after 1970: from 1971-1979, there was only one game each season except in 1974 and 1979 when there were none. Obviously only Niekro and Jensen have done it since then.

Rarer still are games where pitchers have batted seven times. Since 1956, that's happened only three times, and not since 1962. Tom Cheney was the last pitcher to do so, in a game between Washington and Baltimore on September 12, 1962. He won the game 2-1 after striking out 21 batters in sixteen innings for the complete game victory. He was 0 for 6 with a bunt.

In a coincidence reminiscent of Rajai Davis and Jolbert Cabrera's weird batting lines on back-to-back nights last September, the other two 7 PA games happened during the same week. First, the Pirates' Vern Law went 1 for 7 on July 23, 1957 while pitching 14 1/3 innings in a 6-3 victory over Cincinnati. Five days later, Detroit's Billy Hoeft was 1 for 6 with a bunt while taking the loss in a 14 1/3 inning outing against the Yankees.

With pitch counts firmly entrenched in modern baseball, it's very unlikely there will be another pitcher who bats seven times in a single game. As Ryan Jensen showed in 2002, it's not out of the question for a pitcher to bat six times. The next time you see a team score early and often, keep an eye on how often their pitcher bats. You never know when you might see history.

No comments: