We are currently in the 20th year of regular-season interleague play. I’m not sure exactly how many repetitions it takes for an event to transition from exciting novelty to mundane part of the schedule, but somewhere along the way interleague play has done just that. We now accept that this is a world where things as bizarre as Marlins/Mariners series will occur from time to time because it’s become a part of the routine. However, on occasion something happens to remind us why interleague play has any value. It doesn’t happen often, but it did happen last night, when interleague play set the stage for Yu Darvish to step to the plate and hit the first home run of his professional career.
It wasn’t the first home run hit by an American League pitcher this season — that honor belongs to Anthony Ranaudo — but, with all due respect to Ranaudo, it was the first by a pitcher of Darvish’s caliber in a long time. Since the debut of interleague play in 1997, there have been 21 American League pitcher home runs, from Bobby Witt‘s on 6/30/97 to Darvish’s last night. As you would expect, the number of top-tier pitchers on that list after Darvish is small: Mark Buehrle, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett (twice), and CC Sabathia (twice). You can include post-peak Doc Gooden if you’re so inclined, and then, of course, there’s Felix Hernandez, who hit that beautiful grand slam off Johan Santana at Shea Stadium back in 2008.
It’s such a rare feat that there are still four American League teams – Oakland, Los Angeles, New York, and Minnesota — which have yet to record their first pitcher home run in the DH era. Given that rarity and the particular absurdity of how it all played out last night, it’s worth taking a look at Darvish’s night at the plate.