There exists, widely, a mistaken understanding of the relationship between effort and quality. It’s true that something that takes considerable effort is more likely to be good, but the former doesn’t necessarily beget the latter. Something that’s bad is bad, regardless of how much was put into it, and in this way the ends tend to be of greater significance than the means. But there is, though, a strong relationship between effort and remarkability. Something that takes a lot of work is of interest on those grounds alone, no matter the product or result.
Wednesday’s was a fairly ordinary game between the Indians and Rangers in Texas. It was 5-1 Indians going into the bottom of the ninth, and it was 5-2 Indians at the end. Vinnie Pestano worked the ninth, and he had reason to sweat, given that he was pitching in Texas in June. But Pestano also had a particular plate appearance against Jeff Baker that lasted not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, but 15 pitches. That was the first plate appearance of the bottom of the ninth, and it’s also, as of now, the longest plate appearance of the season. Because of how much was put into this showdown, it needs to be discussed. While it might not have been a plate appearance of high quality, it was undeniably remarkable.
More facts. Of the 15 pitches Pestano threw, 14 were counted as fastballs, with a slider for pitch No. 8. Baker immediately fell into an 0-and-2 hole, then he battled until he eventually grounded out. I say this was the longest plate appearance because no other this season has gone beyond 14 pitches. I don’t know about the longest plate appearance in terms of duration, if that’s what you care about more, but this one lasted six minutes and 29 seconds, from when Baker was announced to when Baker was thrown out. Pestano and Baker, at least, maintained a reasonable pace, keeping this from dragging on longer than it did.
You would expect that something like this would happen between two players with higher-than-average rates of pitches per plate appearance. The league-average mark is about 3.8. Baker, we find at 4.0. Pestano, 4.4. So far this season, 409 different pitchers have faced at least 50 opposing batters. In terms of average pitches per, Pestano is tied for fifth, along with Mark Lowe and Jason Grilli. The league leader’s at 4.6, so while you’d never expect this sort of battle, you’d expect it more with a guy like Pestano than with a guy like Bronson Arroyo.
Perhaps the most improbable part is that the plate appearance ended with a 2-and-2 count. The fourth and fifth pitches were balls, and those were the only balls, and generally long showdowns like this are selective for full counts since you’re maximizing the number of pitches. Here are all of the plate appearances from the last 20 years that went at least 15 pitches, and that didn’t end with full counts:
|2013||Jeff Baker||Vinnie Pestano||15||2 and 2||Groundout|
|2009||Orlando Cabrera||Josh Banks||15||2 and 2||Fly out|
|2004||Alex Cora||Matt Clement||18||2 and 2||Dinger|
|2003||Toby Hall||Gabe White||15||2 and 2||Strikeout|
|2001||Mike Lowell||Glendon Rusch||15||2 and 2||Fly out|
|1997||Bip Roberts||Felipe Lira||18||2 and 2||Groundout|
|1997||Kevin Jordan||Jason Isringhausen||15||2 and 2||Double|
|1995||Darren Bragg||Brad Radke||17||2 and 2||Single|
|1995||Carlos Baerga||Atlee Hammaker||15||2 and 2||Dinger|
The last time someone lasted longer than Baker in a non-full count was 2004, when Alex Cora had one of my favorite at-bats ever. Noted Vin Scully when Cora walked up:
Alex Cora, couple of fly balls. So when you don’t have power, a couple of fly balls is pretty much wasted opportunities.
Cora yanked a homer to right, eventually. He slugged .338 for his career.
We’re not going to get out of this without looking at every single pitch. Now then, let’s load and watch 15 .gifs of Vinnie Pestano pitching to Jeff Baker in the bottom of the ninth of a four-run game in the middle of June. Here’s a thing you didn’t think you’d be doing. In large part, life is unplannable.
I can’t help but notice that Carlos Santana did a terrible job of receiving this fastball. He still got the strike, because it was an easy strike, but pitch-receiving is in my head and it’s not getting out. I watch baseball differently from how I used to. Do you? We all evolve.
Why not go there again?
Begin the annoyance. This just got annoying.
Right idea. Who would argue? Baker learned. Baker evolved!
This wasn’t a strike, but it wasn’t nearly as far from being a strike as Santana made it look. His technique doesn’t make me ill, but only because that wouldn’t make any physiological sense.
Here we get our first broadcaster sign that the plate appearance is a long one. From the Rangers’ broadcast:
“…fouled away to the right.“
It’s very subtle, but the inflection is such that you get the sense the Rangers guys felt a long showdown coming. Already, this counted as an extended at-bat. It was two-fifths of the way done.
Almost fair! But foul.
This was popped up in foul territory down the first base line, and the ball came down in the seats, just beyond the reach of Nick Swisher. Swisher came away smiling, even though nothing good had happened for him or for his team. How often does Nick Swisher smile? Is he just always smiling? Is Swisher the one guy who might smile after errors? Someone should investigate this. Someone else, I mean, someone who isn’t me.
All right knock it off
Here’s the first sign of the Indians broadcast being aware of the situation. From the feed:
“…another foul back.”
Again, it’s an inflection thing. Prior to this, it sounded like any other plate appearance. This was the first time one could’ve gotten the sense this was an unusually long plate appearance, if listening to the Cleveland announcers.
This is where the Rangers broadcasters started to chuckle. It was subtle at first, but in their voices you could hear the comedy. It would only build. Also, after this pitch is when the crowd started to get into it. Based on how quickly they started making noise and how quickly they stopped, I assume it was prompted by the scoreboard, but for a few seconds there was a sustained roar. The crowd appreciated the battle, or they were told to appreciate it at least.
Laughter from the Rangers broadcast. Escalated from chuckling.
More laughter from the Rangers broadcast, with further escalation. Meanwhile, from the Indians broadcast:
Underwood: Another foul back. This is unbelievable!
Manning: Now you don’t put fingers down if you’re Santana, you tell him what’s coming. Here it comes. You tell him what’s coming. Then maybe he’ll pop it up.
Before this, the Indians guys had been somewhat ignoring the plate appearance and discussing a Jason Kipnis hit from much earlier. By which I mean, a Kipnis ball in play they thought should’ve been a hit, but that was ruled an error. I can’t imagine actually caring very much about such a distinction, but I also know it’s hard to talk for so many hours in a row, live, on the air. Apparently, to Manning, a plate appearance can reach a point at which the pitching team surrenders its advantage of knowing what’s on the way. Why not? You’ve gotten this far, might as well make the other guy’s odds better for no reason.
A grounder! A ball in play! An out! Except:
The play at first couldn’t possibly have been any closer. Ron Washington came out to argue, the argument serving only to extend the length of the plate appearance in a way. Pestano and Baker battled for 15 pitches, and while on paper Pestano emerged victorious, in truth it’s up in the air. Neither won and neither lost, definitively.
That’s the story of the longest plate appearance of the 2013 season so far. The batter after Baker struck out on three pitches.
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