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You Never Know What You Are Going To See At A Baseball Game

May 5, 2021

Do you lose very much?

I lose. I’ve lost 134 times.

You count them?

This is baseball. We count everything

– For Love Of The Game

Often the final score of a baseball game is one of the least interesting numbers. That was the case in the Baltimore Orioles vs Seattle Mariners game today. The final score was Orioles 6, Seattle 0.

But, there was a lot more to this game than the final score. In fact, it was a game unlike any game ever in the past. There are 30 teams in baseball and each team plays 162 games. That’s 2,430 games per year for the league. Plus there’s the post season. And professional baseball has been played for over 150 years. that works out to over 218,400 games played.

In all those hundreds of thousands of games, what happened today in Seattle has never happened before.

Before we get to what happened, let’s talk a little about some unique instances in baseball. A typical baseball game is 9 innings, with each team getting 3 outs per inning. If the game ends in a tie after 9 innings, the teams keep playing.

Did you know that baseball is the only major American sport where the defense controls the ball? The other notable exception is Cricket.

Anyway, the minimum number of batters a pitcher can face in a 9 inning game is 27. (Unless, the home team is ahead going into the bottom of the ninth inning in which case the visiting picture could face three less, or 24. But, it would be hard for the home team to be ahead if the visiting picture faced the minimum. So, call it 25. But, if we delve into every exception, this will be a long post and this parenthetical comment is already too long. Just know that I really do understand the intricacies, and if you want to delve into them, I’m happy to discuss them in painfully excruciating detail.)

We’ll come back to the minimum number of batters. Today’s Orioles pitcher John Means faced the minimum. I once had a discussion with a fellow baseball nerd about the minimum number of pitches possible in a baseball game. A pitcher has to face 27 batters. If every batter popped out on the first pitch, the pitcher would throw 27 pitches. (No one has ever done that, by the way. The fewest was Red Barrett. On August 10, 1944 he pitched a complete 2-0 win by throwing just 58 pitches. For comparison, Means threw 113 today.) But, what about the minimum number of pitches per inning? That would be 3 pitches. One to each batter.

That’s happened 190 times according to the guys at baseball-almanac. But they didn’t always count number of pitches, so it’s hard to know for sure. Most recently Ryne Stanek of the Houston Astros had a three-pitch inning April 3, 2021.

Despite the fact that three is the fewest pitches, it’s not the most impressive inning. That would be an immaculate inning. Three batters, three pitches per batter, three strikes. There have been 38 immaculate innings in the long history of baseball. It’s one of the rarest feats ever.

Most recently it was Mariner’s ace Felix Hernandez who threw an immaculate inning (9 strikes, three strikeouts) on June 17, 2008.

A shutout happens when one team fails to score. (Means achieved a shutout, but he did a lot more.) Shutouts are not that common. In fact, pitching great Walter Johnson recorded 110 shutouts during his career.

Better than a shutout (and much rarer) is a no-hitter. A no-hitter is just what it sounds like. The batters don’t score any hits. There have been over 300 no-hitters in the history of baseball. That doesn’t mean no one makes contact with the ball. Batters can foul off pitches as long as they want. It’s not uncommon for a good hitter to regularly take many more pitches than 3 strikes (or 4 balls.) The longest at bat was San Francisco’s Brandon Belt. He had a 21 pitch at-bat back in 2018. He then hit a pop fly that was caught for an out. So, while he hit a lot of baseballs, because he didn’t safely reach base, it was not recorded as a hit.

Pitchers have achieved no-hitters and still lost the game. Someone could walk. Steal bases and eventually score. On April 23, 1964 Ken Johnson, pitching for Houston threw a nine inning no-hitter and still lost. In fact, it’s happened five times. But, most of the time if you pitch a no-hitter you win. Means got credit for a no-hitter today.

Better than a no-hitter, and of course rarer, is the perfect game. In a perfect game, no batter gets a hit, and no one walks. In fact, no one gets on base. There have been just 23 perfect games in the history of baseball. One of them was in the 1956 World Series when Don Larsen through a perfect game. The last perfect game was 2012. Again, it was Seattle Mariners elite pitcher Seattle Felix Hernandez. He threw a perfect game on August 15, 2012.

Means did not throw a perfect game today. But, he did record 27 outs and allowed no walks and no hits.

So, what happened?

Like I said, something that has never happened before.

In today’s third inning, Means was pitching to Seattle Mariners left fielder Sam Haggerty. Haggerty swung and missed at strike three. Normally, he would have been out, but the catcher missed the ball and it skittered off toward the backstop. Baseball has a rule called the “swinging third strike” rule. If a batter swings and misses and the catcher fails to catch the pitch, the batter can try to run to first base before the catcher tracks down the ball and throws him out.

It’s a strange rule even for baseball, which has a rulebook full of strange rules. Rarely does a batter actually beat the throw. But, Haggerty did. So, he got on base via a strikeout and wild pitch.

Haggerty then attempted to steal second but was thrown out by the catcher. So, Means still faced the minimum 27 batters, since he only faced three in the third.

So, no perfect game. But, John Means did throw a no-hitter. And while there have been many of them thrown in the past, this is the first no-hitter recorded accomplished via the dropped third strike rule.

I watched the game, as excruciating as that was for a Mariners fan. You never know what you are going to see at the ballpark.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2021 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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