When Non-Pitchers Attack
April 26, 2008 2 Comments
Trailing 18-0 as the eighth inning came to a close, the Arizona Diamondbacks knew that their chance of coming back had passed its statute of limitations. When the ninth inning rolled around, and the likes of Rick Helling, Mike Morgan, Eddie Oropesa, and Bret Prinz had already appeared, Bob Brenly decided to give one hopeful his pitching debut. Mark Grace. Brenly called upon Grace to pitch the final inning of this September 2nd, 2002 game in order to rest a weary bullpen in a situation that had become meaningless. What happened next will be etched in the baseball part of my mind forever: Grace began impersonating pitchers on his team, namely Mike Fetters, illiciting much laughter out of the severely depleted fan base as well as his colleagues.
Grace induced flyouts off the bats of Jeff Reboulet and Wilson Ruan before surrendering a first-pitch home run to Dave Ross. The dinger turned out to be the first of Ross’s career and you couldn’t help but smile at Grace’s mock yelling angrily at him as he circled the bases. Tyler Houston then flew out to end the inning and the DBacks lost 19-1.
Non-pitchers taking the mound seems to be an event so rare in nature that it can help quell the disgust at our team for being blown out; or, for the team experiencing the huge lead, it can become quite the comical moment as pressure ceases to exist when up by 15+ runs. Despite this, it could potentially produce embarrassing results if a certain non-pitcher happens to strike batters out. Perhaps not as embarrassing as it would have been if Pat Maholm gave up a single to Billy Crystal but, if I’m a major league hitter, I’m very likely to get razzed if Jeff Cirillo comes into pitch and strikes me out.
Well… if you replace “a major league hitter” with Craig Counsell the previous sentence takes on the form of a factual description of a ninth inning event on August 20th, 2007. Ahead 9-0, Bob Melvin thought it appropriate to give his oft-used bullpen a break, and handed the ball to the veteran infielder. Maybe Counsell had been trying to act like a leadoff batter, getting himself into a longer at-bat in order to show his teammates Cirillo’s repertoire, because an epic 7-pitch matchup followed. After a called strike and a swinging strike, Jeff wasted two pitches, evening up the count at 2-2. Counsell fought back, fouling the next two pitches off, but Cirillo came back and struck him out swinging on the next pitch.
Counsell is not the only one who has ever fallen victim to a strikeout at the hands of a non-pitcher and I decided to research more instances of this occurring. Luckily, Sean Forman informed me of a page in the Frivolities section at Baseball-Reference that kept track of non-pitchers pitching, or else this would have taken quite some time. Below are the more recent players that have been struck out by non-pitchers; since it will come in story and not list form the non-pitcher and strikeout victim will be bolded.
Tim Bogar had made a relief pitching appearance on June 10th, 2000, giving nothing up in his one inning, while throwing 12 pitches/9 strikes. The Astros called on him again two weeks later, June 24th. After surrendering a leadoff home run to J.T. Snow, Bogar struck out Felipe Crespo on three straight swing and misses.
Wade Boggs came into pitch in two different years: 1997 with the Yankees and 1999 with the Devil Rays. No, that isn’t a messup, they were still the Devil Rays back then. He struck out one batter in each of his appearances. In 1997, victim #1 was Angels catcher Todd Greene, and in 1999, victim #2 was none other than the venerable Delino DeShields.
In 1991, Cubs outfielder Doug Dascenzo made three pitching appearances, striking out one batter in two of them. Against the Cardinals he struck out pitcher Willie Fraser, which I guess is not as difficult as someone like DeShields, but is still a strikeout. Against the Pirates, later on in the year, he struck out pinch-hitter Joe Redfield. Also of note: he got Barry Bonds to flyout.
Mets legend Matt Franco struck two batters out in multiple 1999 appearances. With two outs in the ninth inning, against the Braves, Matt came into spell John Franco. After giving up a Gerald Williams home run and an Otis Nixon triple, he struck out Andruw Jones swinging. A little over a month later, against the Dodgers, Franco struck out super-mega-pinch-hit star Dave Hansen.
In 1990, current Red Sox skipper Terry Francona struck out Stan Javier.
Gary Gaetti made three pitching appearances throughout his career, but none more memorable than July 3rd, 1999, when he struck out the immortal Kevin Sefcik.
In 1998, another super-mega-pinch-hit star, Lenny Harris, pitched a scoreless inning against the Reds; in the process he struck out Brent Mayne. Mayne did make a pitching appearance of his own but sadly did not strike anyone out.
Though not necessarily recent, Dave Kingman struck out three Dodgers in a 1973 game in which he pitched two innings. His victims: Steve Yeager, Joe Ferguson, and Bill Russell. Earlier in the year he struck out Darrel Chaney of the Reds.
In 2001, Tim Laker struck out Jose Valentin. I’m not counting this, though, because Laker was named in The Mitchell Report. Clearly, magical performance elixirs are the only reason this K exists.
Also in 2001, Mark Loretta struck out reliever Chris Nichting and outfielder Ruben Rivera of the Reds in the same inning.
On June 19th, 1987, third year player Paul O’Neill had one wild appearance against the Braves: Lasting two innings, he gave up two hits, three runs, while walking four and striking out two. His victims were Ken Griffey (the dad) and pitcher Jeff Dedmon.
Former Pirates backup catcher Keith Osik pitched in one game in 1999 and one in 2000, striking out one in each. In 1999 he struck out fellow backup catcher Paul Bako. Osik’s membership to the Below Average Backup Catchers Union was promptly revoked. In 2000, John Rodriguez of the Cardinals fell victim.
In 2001, Desi Relaford struck out reliever Jose Antonio Nunez in an at-bat that I would bet neither Relaford nor Nunez even remembers.
With two outs in the eighth on May 2nd, 1993, Kevin Seitzer relieved Kelly Downs and struck out Carlos Martinez to end the inning.
On July 31st, 1998, Mark Whiten of the Indians pitched the eighth inning against the Athletics in which he struck out the side! Mike Blowers, Miguel Tejada (he was two years older though so it’s different), and Mike Neill (who?) were no match for the powers of the “Light-hittin’” one.
And lastly, as a member of the Rockies in 2002, Todd Zeile struck out Wilson Ruan.
Wow. I don’t know if you realized it or not but the first example of a non-pitcher pitching in this article involved Wilson Ruan and so did the last. That was entirely unintentional and what we in the filmmaking community refer to as a “happy mistake.” I never thought I would ever write an article bookended by Wilson Ruan. My personal favorite non-pitcher pitching moment was Grace’s, but what are yours?