In his first start of the season on April 10, Rich Harden tossed six tremendous innings, issuing one free pass while racking up 10 punchouts at the expense of the Brewers. Yesterday, Harden performed less effectively against the Rockies in what amounted to a 5-2 loss. He only spent three innings on the mound due to an escalating pitch count that reached 92 thanks to four walks and four earned runs surrendered. Even so, Harden managed to rack up eight more strikeouts.
There are only nine outs to get in three innings of work meaning that Harden recorded strikeouts for all but one of the required outs. The other came on a hit by opposing pitcher Jason Marquis, when Chris Iannetta was thrown out while running to third base. Three innings… nine outs… eight strikeouts + one baserunning out. Combine these factors and it becomes clear that Harden did not retire anyone via a ball in play, which reeks of rarity.
I turned to my Retrosheet database to determine just how rare this event was, and not shockingly at all, it is incredibly rare. The number of similar games really depends on what constitutes a ball in play. If we look at groundouts, flyouts and lineouts only, there have been six games from 1954-2008 in which a pitcher logged at least three innings and recorded no BIP outs.
If we change the definition of balls in play to include foulouts as well as the aforementioned three, our sample of six games is halved to just three. Either replace foulouts with popouts or include both foulouts and popouts in conjunction with the groundouts, flyouts, and lineouts, and no games from 1954-2008 surface. That is, there has never been a game in this 50+ year span in which a pitcher tossed three or more innings and recorded no outs by any of these five forms of balls in play.
Rich Harden certainly didn’t record any lineouts, groundouts or flyouts yesterday but popouts and foulouts were also absent. Essentially, Harden’s game yesterday is the only such occurrence of the above feat since at least 1954, the start of my database.
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