Technically, or literally, the year’s longest plate appearance was probably this one, in which a visiting Miguel Cabrera insisted upon the re-drawing of the batter’s boxes. The discussions and subsequent work by the groundskeepers caused something like a nine-minute delay before Cabrera flew out on the very next pitch. So that’s one way of looking at this, but that’s probably the most annoying way of looking at this. Let’s look at this in a more standard way.
On May 12, 2004, Alex Cora batted against Matt Clement in the bottom of the seventh in Los Angeles. The first pitch was a ball, the second pitch was a strike, the third pitch was a ball, and the fourth pitch was a strike. The next 14 pitches were also all strikes, and the 18-pitch at-bat culminated in an Alex Cora home run. Even though video highlights are no longer widely available — I remember first seeing this on RealPlayer — this at-bat has stuck with me ever since. Sometimes I forget the number of pitches, but I always remember Alex Cora, Matt Clement, a long at-bat, and a home run.
So I have an interest in unusually long plate appearances, and I have an interest in the longest plate appearances of the year. I wondered what might have been the longest plate appearance of 2012. If you’re like me, or if you’re like my colleague Dave Cameron, you might think the longest plate appearance of 2012 was this one by Ryan Braun:
That’s 14 pitches and a home run, against Fernando Rodriguez on August 1. That was one of the longest plate appearances of the year, but that was not the very longest plate appearance of the year. It turns out the longest plate appearance occurred on July 5, between Juan Francisco and Matt Garza. There were two outs in the bottom of the first in Atlanta, and Garza had already allowed four runs, thanks to a pair of dingers. With no one on, Garza walked Andrelton Simmons on nine pitches. Garza retired Francisco to prevent any more damage in the inning, but it took him 16 pitches to do it. That was the season’s longest plate appearance, by one pitch.
I tried to make a .gif, but it wound up being too large to upload to the site. There’s one clue that the plate appearance was really freaking long. (Another clue: the number of pitches.) In lieu of a .gif, here is an image that is about seven stories tall:
Not only 16 pitches to home plate — also three pick-off attempts to first base. Those pick-off attempts aren’t completely negligible. Garza would’ve wound up worn out. Francisco would’ve wound up worn out. And Simmons would’ve wound up worn out, because look at all of those Foul (Runner Going)s. Ten of them, including nine in a row, before the ball in play. Simmons then immediately had to get his glove and play shortstop. If there’s anything that could make Andrelton Simmons a subpar defensive shortstop, it’s probably preceding the defense with about six minutes of wind sprints.
It was a full count after six pitches. Garza threw six full-count breaking balls with Francisco being an aggressive hitter and the Braves’ pitcher waiting on deck. Francisco kept battling, and even the groundball was only very barely fair. This could’ve gone on longer. This could’ve been way shorter — the seventh pitch was only barely touched — but this could’ve gone on way longer.
There’s an idea out there that long at-bats wear the defense down by causing lapses in concentration. It’s hard to maintain focus if a plate appearance just won’t end. I don’t know if that idea truly applies to big-league defenders, but it seems to apply to big-league ball boys:
By the end, the Braves’ dugout was having the time of its collective life, which made sense given that Garza couldn’t get Francisco out and the Braves were already on top by four runs:
Garza did finally get Francisco out to end the inning. Garza’s inning lasted 44 pitches, and here’s where I remember to tell you that the official game-time temperature was 96 degrees. This was Atlanta, Georgia at the beginning of July. The Cubs didn’t score in the top of the second, and then Garza had to go right back to work. He lasted four innings in all.
That’s not the end of it. Garza faced three batters in the second, and four batters in the third. He faced Francisco again in the bottom of the fourth, and walked him. The walk took 12 pitches. Previously, Garza had faced Francisco three times in his career, all on September 5, 2011. In that game against Garza, Francisco went 0-for-3, seeing a total of 11 pitches. Against Garza on July 5, 2012, Francisco saw 12 pitches and 16 pitches. They were the longest two plate appearances of Francisco’s 2012 season. They were the longest two plate appearances of Garza’s 2012 season. They were consecutive Juan Francisco/Matt Garza plate appearances.
We close. Francisco grounded out on five pitches against Scott Maine in the sixth. He came up to bat again in the eighth. From the Atlanta broadcast:
Francisco stood in against Manny Corpas, who was seen warming up in the Cubs’ bullpen during Francisco’s first plate appearance all the way back in the bottom of the first. Francisco, to that point, had seen 33 pitches over three plate appearances. Francisco’s plate appearance against Corpas:
First-pitch dinger! At 443 feet.
In the game, Juan Francisco faced a total of 34 pitches. In no other game in Juan Francisco’s big-league career has he faced more than 23 pitches. Against Matt Garza, Francisco had his two longest plate appearances of the season, and he had the longest plate appearance of the season in all of baseball. Ryan Braun hit a home run after 14 pitches. Scott Rolen drew a walk after 15 pitches. Juan Francisco grounded out sharply after 16 pitches. It wasn’t as epic as Alex Cora’s 18-pitch at-bat, but it was epic still, if a plate appearance can indeed be epic, which it probably cannot to be honest.