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The Four-Pitcher Slam

Oct 14, 2013, 3:51 PM EDT

ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game Two Getty Images

My pal Bob Ryan brought this up first, but it’s worth reliving for a moment. Sunday night, David Ortiz hit one of the coolest home runs in postseason baseball history. There are many reasons for this. One, is the obvious: The game seemed over. The series, really, seemed over. The Tigers led 5-0, the probable Cy Young winner Max Scherzer was on the mound, Detroit had already won Game 1 in Boston and so the Tigers seemed well on their way down World Series Road.

Then, gradually, imperceptibly at first, things shifted — Boston scored a run, Scherzer came out of the game after a dominant inning, the Red Sox got a double, then a walk, then a single, then Ortiz swung at the first pitch …

Magic.

Another thing: You very rarely see a grand slam that actually ties a game in the late innings. I think game-tying grand slams, in some ways, are even cooler than game-winning ones. Being down four runs seems like a nearly-impossible climb. And then, one swing, new ballgame. So awesome.

In 2013, there were 96 grand slams hit. Six tied the game. And only one of those six — Kyle Seager’s improbable game-tying grand slam in the 14th inning against the White Sox — came after the seventh inning. in 2012, only three game-tying grand slams happened after the seventh. In 2011, there were two. So, this is a rare thing.

And it’s even rarer in the postseason. There have only been three game-tying grand slams in postseason history. In 1977, LA’s Ron Cey hit a grand slam off Phillies’ silent man Steve Carlton to tie the game in the seventh of an NLCS game. In 2004, free-swingin’ Vlad Guerrero, then with the Angels, grand slammed Mike Timlin to tie the Red Sox game in the seventh inning.And then there was Ortiz last night.

But the coolest thing — or anyway, the most telling thing — about the Ortiz home run was this: ALL FOUR RUNS WERE CHARGED TO DIFFERENT PITCHERS.

What an amazing and odd statistic. Several people have asked me if this has ever happened before — I have no idea how to look it up. Maybe someone already has, I’ll keep looking. But for now, I think that little tidbit tells you more about baseball in 2013 — and maybe even life in 2013 — than just about anything else.

How did it happen? Scherzer was pulled before the inning began because, I guess, he had thrown 108 pitches. He had actually just pitched a dominating inning, but Detroit manager Jim Leyland decided he’d had enough. Whatever. So Scherzer was not even one of the four pitchers who had a piece of the slam.

Jose Veras started the inning. He forced a groundout and then gave up a double to Will Middlebrooks.

That’s one.

Drew Smyly came in. He walked Jacoby Ellsbury in a six-pitch at-bat.

That’s two.

Al Alburquerque came in. He struck out Shane Victorino but gave up a ground ball single to Dustin Pedroia.

That’s three.

And Joaquin Benoit came in to face Ortiz. He hit the home run.

And that’s four.

I was having an email exchange with Tom Tango and Bill James about length of games — I have to say that most of the time I don’t care much about length of game discussions. For one thing, it’s kind of a fact of life, like the weather. Baseball is built around a deliberate pace, and while sometimes it can get ridiculous (some of those American League East games are longer than the Korean War) it just, hey, you know, Vanilla Ice goes Amish.*

*I have vowed that I will replace the dreaded “It is what it is” cliche with “Vanilla ice goes Amish,” in honor of an actual reality TV show that more or less puts all reason to an end.

But, I must admit — the games in the postseason are taking too long. A four-hour 1-0 game that was almost a no-hitter? That’s just one example but, I’m sorry, that’s just too long — I don’t care how many walks or how long the playoff commercials. Baseball is absolutely still wonderful. That 1-0 game was still wonderful. But it can be wonderful AND still be too long.

See, the issue is that there’s so much NOTHING that happens now in baseball. So much stepping out, stepping back in, pitcher waiting, pitcher throwing to first, pitcher waiting, batter stepping out again, relief pitcher coming in … does ANYBODY like this stuff? No. They don’t. Plus it gives the television broadcasts too much time, which they too often fill with award-show crowd shots* and reiteration of cliches the announcer had just uttered.

*You know how in award shows, the person on stage will sometimes tell a joke and they will scan to a celebrity in the crowd that had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the joke. Like someone will tell a Mel Gibson joke and then, suddenly, the camera scans to Marisa Tomei. And even she’s like, “What? Why me?” That’s what I always think of when Fox scans the crowd to show random people during a tense baseball moment.

Anyway, Bill responded this way:

“The PACE of baseball is a huge problem.   The commissioner’s office has tried to deal with this, for years, by nibbling around the edges of it. But the real solutions are extremely simple:

1)  Don’t grant the batter time out between pitches, and
2)  Limit pitching substitutions.

That’s it.   Do those two things, the problem goes away. If you DON’T do those two things, you cannot solve the problem.”

I think that’s probably right. The stalling stuff on both sides — pitcher and hitter — seems pointless and bad for the game. There have been mild efforts to stop it, but I think it’s probably time to just kibosh that.

And then there are the pitching substitutions. I think those speak to the larger issues I was talking about before. We have become so absurdly specialized. I mean, seriously, four pitchers in a single inning with a four-run lead? How is that good for the game? How does that make the game better in any way? How does that even help your team win? And, more to the point, how is that in the spirit of baseball as we know and love it?

All new rule suggestions sound impossible when first brought up. It does not seem feasible that baseball will change its rules so it is more like soccer with a limit on the number of pitching substitutions a manager is allowed to make in a single game. But the question here is simply: Would that kind of rule make the game better?

I think it would. Games would move quicker. I think it would force managers to be MORE strategic, not less because they would have to be smart about how they substituted. And, anyway, it would prevent teams from just throwing stuff at walls.

There was absolutely no good reason whatsoever for Jim Leyland to strangle that inning in an overmanaging feat rarely seen outside of Tony La Russa’s house. Why in the heck did he pull Jose Veras with a four-run lead and one man on second base? What was that Drew Smyly thing about? If you think Benoit is your best pitcher and you’re willing to bring him in the eighth, why wouldn’t you bring him in to face Pedroia? It was Leyland doing stuff just to DO stuff, and it dragged the game to a near standstill. Managers shouldn’t do that. More to the point, managers shouldn’t have the POWER to do that.

I don’t really believe in the baseball gods. But if they are out there, I’m sure they were cheering Ortiz’s grand slam as loudly as anybody.

  1. aceshigh11 - Oct 14, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    Lots of awesome tidbits to chew over in this post. Nicely done, Craig.

    • skids003 - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:00 PM

      Craig didn’t write this. Joe P. did.

      • aceshigh11 - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:16 PM

        Well…don’t I feel like an idiot. Not the first time…not the last.

      • nfieldr - Oct 14, 2013 at 6:57 PM

        You can usually tell Craig vs. Joe by the number of words…. not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    • cubanxsenators - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:09 PM

      Ace, you must be high.

      • aceshigh11 - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:16 PM

        I wish.

    • Francisco (FC) - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:16 PM

      Yeah too bad it was Joe who wrote the post.

      • aceshigh11 - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:27 PM

        Yeah, I’m not gonna live this one down today.

      • Francisco (FC) - Oct 14, 2013 at 5:04 PM

        Sorry Aces, I didn’t mean to pile on. I swear when I wrote only your comment was posted at the time. This thing isn’t dynamic and won’t update when new comments show up.

    • 18thstreet - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:39 PM

      Hey, Aces — Joe wrote this, not Craig.

      Now, to read the rest of the comments to see what clear original observations other readers have made.

    • sabatimus - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:59 PM

      I see some commenters didn’t see the time stamps. Or didn’t care.

  2. ezthinking - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:20 PM

    To paraphrase Craig from eariler this year,

    If you think watching a baseball game is too long, you’re doing it wrong.

    Joe P. just entered “Get off my lawn” territory.

    He was a great writer. Now he wants to change the game because he apparently has other stuff to do. For a guy without deadlines there is only one word for Joe’s plight; sad.

    • klbader - Oct 14, 2013 at 6:31 PM

      Nothing says crotchety old man like advocating for a radical change to a well-established rule.

    • DJ MC - Oct 14, 2013 at 9:54 PM

      I’ll bet you hate TV cop shows because they don’t show officers filling out paperwork or driving to a crime scene. Or medical shows that don’t show patients filling out insurance forms. Or law shows that don’t show painstaking research for precedent in the law library.

      You can enjoy something as entertainment while wanting to cut down on the boring parts. And as riveting as a 1-0 pitchers’ duel is, one that creeps perilously close to entering a fifth hour has a LOT of boring parts.

  3. RickyB - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:30 PM

    Above all of the overmanaging Leyland did in the eighth, I can’t seem anybody else out there who is outraged that he pulled Benoit after the eighth in favor of Porcello. After throwing eight pitches. When he was going to pitch the ninth had he escaped the eighth with the lead intact. Am I missing something? Was this not simply compounding his problems? Hello? Anyone? I’m not even a Tigers fan and I was up in arms about this.

    • js20011041 - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:37 PM

      I agree that he probably should have let Benoit pitch the 9th, but having said that, I don’t think the Tigers are coming back to win that game regardless. I don’t say that as a momentum thing, I say that as a Jim Leyland shot his wad in the 8th, thing. Benoit’s only going to give another inning at most. Then it’s Porcello, or Phil Coke. There’s no way the Red Sox aren’t winning the game at that point.

  4. polegojim - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:32 PM

    Cool tidbits… but I can’t get past the fact of utter failure.

    ALL CREDIT TO BOSTON for doing what they NEEDED to do… they FINISHED…

    Now on to my Tiger RANT:

    How many times will Benoit fail in the post season… and Leland still tolerate it. I called the long ball before he threw the first pitch… because he’s BENIOT… next worst thing to Malverde.

    Fielder sloppily tries to scoop the throw instead of getting in front of it.
    Fielder drops an EASY pop out
    Starting pitcher WALKS the ONE batter he was going to face
    Crazy uncontrolled wild pitch to move runner to third.

    Complete Tiger meltdown, including crap game management decisions.

  5. paul621 - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:38 PM

    Interesting piece, thanks. I was just thinking the other day, how different would things be if you couldn’t change pitchers at all? Imagine of every starter was required to finish (except for injury, of course). The strategy of the pitcher, not the manager, would change drastically, I’d guess.

  6. NatsLady - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:49 PM

    Disagree.

    (1) If you don’t award time out to the batter you totally let the pitcher control the game with his pacing.
    (2) You don’t need to teach Leyland a lesson. If Smyly had DONE HIS JOB, this wouldn’t even be a discussion.
    (3) Part of what takes so long is a deliberate strategy to run up the pitch count. Are we supposed to take away that strategy?

    Football games take almost as long with less action per hour–and more ads.

    Question: Do AL games take longer than NL games? Is that true, on average?

    • js20011041 - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:59 PM

      Also part of the problem is that pitchers are holding the ball so long with runners on base. I believe they have a set time in which the pitcher has to deliver the next pitch on the books already. They need to enforce that. Also, limit the number of throw overs. I don’t know what purpose it serves to lollipop a throw over to first with an injured Miguel Cabrera on 1st and Fielder at the plate, but that’s the kind of thing you see a lot, especially in the post season. Those two moves should speed up the game a little bit and If it leads to increased activity on the bases, all the better.

      • sabatimus - Oct 14, 2013 at 5:03 PM

        I think the time limit is 11 or 13 seconds, I forget. But the umps do not enforce it. And it would be the easiest way to speed up any game.

      • moogro - Oct 14, 2013 at 6:58 PM

        I’m cool with the lollipops. It’s the pitcher practicing for the hard pick-off throws.

  7. El Bravo - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:59 PM

    Scherzer shoulda (and coulda) pitched another inning.

  8. Kevin Gillman - Oct 14, 2013 at 5:07 PM

    What Bill James said was garbage, limit pitching substiutions, and even worse yet, don’t give batters time out? What about making Clay Buchholz pitch every four seconds when he catches the ball, and gets the signal? But regardless, it’s baseball. The one major sport that doesn’t have a time clock, and games like last night are what makes baseball so great.

  9. roadryder - Oct 14, 2013 at 5:16 PM

    I have to agree that for a 1-0 game that’s a near no-hitter 4 hours is ridiculous. I know about the Sox working the count and all the walks but my impression is that this is a more frequent and larger problem with FOX telecasts especially in the post-season. Of course, MLB is comp[licit because they demand the level of rights fees that give FOX license to expand the number of between-innings commercials. I don’t have any numbers to back this up but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t the case.

    As far as Leyland’s over managing in the eighth – yeah, guilty as charged. But he’s merely following the trend. I’d have left Scherzer in for another inning myself but if he had suddenly shit the bed then the second guess would be why didn’t you let a reliever start the inning? The problem with panicking with a big lead and going for match ups is that you begin with a starter having a dominant night and then rely on any one of the guys you bring in not having a bad enough night to cost you the game. The more guys you bring in the bigger chance you have of pulling the wrong switch.

    As for limiting the time of games I agree with Bill James but I would indirectly limit pitching changes by limiting the number of pitchers that can be on the roster. Teams used to get by just fine with 5-man bullpens but now they’ve expanded to 6 or 7 guys which gives managers more toys to play with instead of taking naps or scratching their balls (Jimmy Dugan style – which Joe has suggested would leave most of their teams better off). That would also allow teams to carry more positional players on their bench. I wold also limit or ban mound conferences not involving the manager, pitching coach or trainer. Can’t get the signs straight? Figure it out before hand. Can’t agree on the pitch to throw? Enforce the time limit between pitches and that problem goes away – someone will have to give in.

  10. NatsLady - Oct 14, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    Are you going to limit the number of fouls, also? ‘Cause that takes time… This is a non-problem. If you don’t have 4 hours out of your life to watch a playoff game, um, don’t watch it.

  11. NatsLady - Oct 14, 2013 at 5:58 PM

    Also, I’m just reading an article that says Dusty Baker’s big fault ten years ago was NOT coming out to calm down his pitcher, NOT stalling for time so he could bring in a reliever, etc. Little irony here, folks?

  12. dwaynehosey - Oct 14, 2013 at 7:04 PM

    Instead of limiting pitching changes, how about just speeding them up? Eliminate warm up pitches from the mound – the pitcher should be fully warmed up in bullpen. As soon has the new pitcher arrives, everyone gets back in position and the game resumes. Should save a minute or two each change.

  13. km9000 - Oct 14, 2013 at 8:27 PM

    Pitcher waits. Hitter calls timeout because he’s tired of waiting. Viewers at home get tired of waiting.

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