The Four Pitcher Slam

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.

44 thoughts on “The Four Pitcher Slam

  1. Mark Daniel

    I’ve watched quite a few Tigers games in my day, and I don’t recall Leyland ever going all LaRussa on us like he did switching pitchers in the 8th last night. Maybe he has, but I don’t remember seeing it.

    Reply
  2. W Burnette

    Another great article. I actually sent one of my twenty lifetime tweets that a 1-0 pitching dual was going four hours, but I blamed the commercials. I think that commercials, while part of the problem, will never be shortened so it doesn’t come into the discussion.
    I agree on the pitching substitutions. I think they should put in a rule that every pitcher has to pitch to two (even three?) batters. If not, they are considered injured and must take three games off. The actual numbers here are not as important, but the concept is; make the pitchers get outs as in plural. It would make managing more strategic and possibly allow rosters to carry less then 12 pitchers.

    Reply
    1. Wilbur

      You’d never get that rule change through the MLPA. The Union has to agree to any substantive rule change, which is why the damnable designated hitter is forever here to stay.

      Reply
      1. 18thstreet

        Yes, last night’s game is a great example of why the DH must go. I’d much rather watch intentional walks to the 8th hitter, leading to a feeble pinch hitter striking out on four pitches. THAT’S DRAMA! Not these game-tying grand slams. Feh.

        Reply
      2. Bob Lince

        Still snivelling about the DH? ICBWBISTM that the National League in the USA, and its minor league affiliates when the play each other, are the only baseball organizations in the world, at any and every level of play, that don’t us the designated hitter.

        Reply
    2. Ryan James Lind

      I am a big fan of the idea that each reliever needs to face an increasing number of batters. Want to bring in a LOOGY to face one guy? Fine; but the next pitcher you bring in has to face two guys, and if you sub him, then the NEXT pitcher must face at least three guys.

      Barring injuries and such of course. I think that not only would this limit the gratuitous pitching changes, but would introduce a whole new element of strategy to managing. Do you bring in your lefty to face David Ortiz, knowing that he HAS to stay in the game to face the next batter?

      Of course, it’s too dramatic of a change, so it will never happen, since people are STILL whining about the DH that was introduced some 40 years ago.

      Reply
      1. bellweather22

        I’d prefer to see a limitation on total pitchers for a nine inning game. I’m going to go with four. This would force managers to stay with starters longer if he was planning on a lefty matchup later in the game. One batter pitchers, especially lefty specialists would go away if they couldn’t get more than one out. Extra innings remove the rule since managers understand that they have to get more out of pitchers or risk emptying their pen and having nobody left.

        Reply
  3. Ryan James Lind

    Using RetroSheet through 2012, I have 7 matches for the four pitcher slam in regular season play:

    1) October 2, 2004: Steve Finley against the Giants (9th inning)
    2) September 1, 2001: Ray Lankford against the DBacks (8th inning)
    3) May 6, 1988: Pat Sheridan against the Mariners (8th inning)
    4) September 20, 1987: Nick Esasky against the Giants (9th inning)
    5) July 10, 1983: Lance Parrish against the A’s (9th inning)
    6) August 6, 1982: Reggie Jackson against the Mariners (6th inning)
    7) July 4, 1961: Julio Becquer against the White Sox (9th inning)

    As for the pace of the game, I agree with Bill. I frankly find it unwatchable. The game needs to do something to limit pitching changes and IBB’s before I will fully be interested in watching the sport again, but that’s just me…

    Reply
  4. Josh

    In no other sport that I’ve ever followed are teams granted an unlimited number of times out AND allowed to use them at any time. (I might be stealing that from James.) (Fun fact: college basketball teams are, in fact, granted an unlimited number of times out.)

    I proposed that, unless attacked by dogs or bees or dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark the bees sting you:
    - Batters should be required to keep two feet in the batters’ box.
    - Pitchers should be required to stand on the rubber except when throwing to first.
    - Catchers should not be allowed to leave the catchers’ box. If they need to communicate with the pitcher, they have hand signals for that.
    - Coaches should not be allowed to leave the dugout. If they want to talk to the pitcher, they can wait until the third out (or the pitcher’s removal from the game). We’re all heard what the pitching coaches say, and it can wait: “Throw strikes.” “We can get this guy.” “Candlesticks make a lovely gift.”

    …and barring that, baseball should install a pitch clock of 18-20 secods or so, and 45 seconds between batters. If it expires when the pitcher is holding the ball, it’s a ball. If you want a mound conference, it will cost you something. If you’re not prepared, stop taking it out on the fans. It’s not our fault you can’t figure out whether to throw a curve or a slider. (Incidentally, if you’re playing the Red Sox, the answer is ‘slider.’)

    Play ball.

    Reply
    1. Joel

      Strongly disagree with:
      - the time clock idea. One of the best things about baseball is no clock. This is why baseball is superior to all other games.
      - Catchers should be limited to one trip to the mound in an inning. Sometimes it is the only way to communicate. They really don’t do it unless there is a need. Most games they do it only once or less. Sometimes the need is to stall to allow the man in the bullpen to warm up. That is acceptable part of the game to me.
      - Coaches sometimes need to talk to a pitcher. Pitchers can often be their own worst enemy, they sometimes need the catcher or the coach to settle them down. The one visit per inning rule does not need to be changed. I would agree to a change that says only the manager can go to the mound. It used to be only them that went to mound for a conference or a change.
      Agree with these rule changes:
      - Batter required to keep two feet in the batter’s box. exceptions are swing takes him out of the box and inside or wild pitch take him out of the box. Too many batters go for a walk after each pitch. Tulowitzki is probably the worst at this. I see him play 60 – 70 times a year on TV. When healthy he is the best shortstop in the game but he has this terrible bad habit when batting. The secondary part of this rule is MLB should get gloves with velcro that is of a higher quality than is currently used! All these organizations and players are rolling in money, certainly they can afford better gloves. So many players waste time redoing the velcro after every pitch.
      -Pitchers required to stand on the rubber except when throwing to first after they get the ball back. Related to this pitchers should be allowed to deal with the first base runner the way they want to. (Doesn’t always make sense to me but it seems to to them.)

      Joe — after all these years I still look forward to reading you blog and other writings. Keep on.

      Reply
    2. bellweather22

      College basketball does have a limit on time outs. Not sure where you got the idea that there was no limit. Otherwise Chris Webber would have been unable to signal for a time out he did not have, lose the national championship, and have a large portion of a 30 for 30 show focused on how that ill fated timeout call came to be. All levels of basketball have timeout limits.

      Reply
  5. Wilbur

    Between the unlistenable announcers (make that “color analysts”), the interminable commercial breaks and the snail’s pace of play (I seethe when the Pedroia’s of this world step out and go OCD after every pitch), MLB has finally accomplished something I would’ve never thought possible: I don’t watch the games any more.

    Reply
  6. Greg

    The length of these games are killing me. It kills me because I want to watch these games but not stay up past midnight to do it, and then it kills me all over again when I wake up the next day and find out what I missed. If I’m baseball’s next commissioner, the Great Nightmare is not steroids, or A-Rod, or the next CBA…it’s the four-hour nine-inning game.

    Reply
  7. John Brewer

    The early game on Saturday made for an interesting comparison with the marathon. That first game, also 1-0, was finished in 2:40. Both games had two in-inning pitching changes, so there was no additional time wasted from that standpoint. The difference, on the surface, seems to be total pitches: the ALCS game had 322, while the NLCS game only had 247. So let’s neutralize everything else and lump it all into time/pitch. NLCS: 160min/247 pitches = 39sec/pitch ALCS: 236min/322 pitches = 44sec/pitch. This seems like a significant difference, though how to explain it is probably the real challenge.

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  8. Jonathan Toren

    Re: James’ point, he’s missing one. You can’t prevent the batter from calling time without also timing the pitcher and preventing the pitcher from taking too much time to deliver to home. They need to do both these reciprocal things. That’s why the batter often has to call time, because the pitcher is taking FOREVER to deliver to the plate. Benoit is one of the worst violators in this regard. They have penalized Rafael Betancourt a few times for taking too long — they need to do that more consistently and strictly, starting with this guy Benoit, right now. It’s intolerable to watch.

    Reply
  9. Paul Zummo

    I haven’t watched as much baseball this year, mainly because I don’t have cable anymore, so this is the first time I’ve been exposed to the Red Sox in any great quantity. I’m probably one of the few people outside of New England that doesn’t hate the Sox, and in fact I generally root for them most of the time, unless of course they’re playing the Mets. That being said, they drive me absolutely bonkers. Is there no one on the team that is capable of staying inside the batter’s box between pitches? Does the entire team need to be dosed with Ritalin? Every single guy has an interminable ritual, and it’s driving me bonkers. Please, just stay in the darned box.

    Reply
  10. raven

    Here’s what I would do to shorten games.

    1. If the batter steps out of the box without a good reason (such as injury, a gust of wind blowing dust in his eyes, or something like that), it’s an automatic strike. I’ll leave it to the umpire to judge what a good reason is, but batting glove adjustments do not qualify.
    2. Catcher or infielder visits to the mound result in an automatic ball.
    3. Managers get a limited number of mid-inning pitching changes per game. I think 1 per game is pretty reasonable, but pick whatever number everyone can agree on. Exceptions are made for injuries.
    4. Managers are not allowed to go onto the field to argue calls. The theatrics are never successful anyway. Anyone leaving the dugout to argue gets an automatic ejection and suspension.

    Reply
  11. Bob Miller

    One simple rule to shorten games dramatically is to give each team a fixed number (such as 5 or 9) timeouts an inning. If a batter needs to adjust his glove 4 times in one at bat, fine, but it affects the number of times a pitcher can step off the mound, or a catcher or pitching coach can go to the mound, or a manager can change pitchers. No clock necessary — the managers will keep the games moving, and commercials can still flow between innings.

    Reply
  12. RickyB

    I posted this comment on the HardballTalk site as well, but I still can’t believe no one has brought this up:

    Above all of the overmanaging Leyland did in the eighth, I can’t seem to find 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.

    Is it because he botched the eighth inning and people just assumed that the Tigers would lose? This is driving me crazy!

    Reply
  13. buddaley

    The rules are already in place. Rule 6.02 instructs umpires not to call time on batter’s request for no reason and indicates that umpires should not be lenient in the matter. While it provides wiggle room, it is clear that the object is to keep batters in the batters box. And once the pitcher starts his delivery, time is not permitted even for such things as dust in the eyes.

    Rule 8.04 states that, with the bases unoccupied, the pitcher must deliver the ball within 12 seconds of receiving it. Each violation is to be called a ball.

    Perhaps other rules might speed the pace of the game also, but if those two were enforced, chances are they would be sufficient, or at least a significant step in the right direction.

    Reply
    1. bellweather22

      Isn’t the answer to a lot of problems just to enforce the existing rules? The same is true in golf with slow play rules. If they consistently enforced the rules, all would be fine. But since they don’t, they end up, like in The Masters, dinging some Chinese amateur instead of the real offenders. So play continues to be slow a lot of the time and especially so in Majors.

      Reply
  14. mark lewid

    Jason Maxwell hit a game winning grand slam for the Royals in September. Kyle Seager was not the only slam after the seventh inning

    Reply
  15. KHAZAD

    I think the pitcher change problem is more of a problem in the post season. Managers get tense and jittery in the post season, which usually leads them to overmanage, which often leads to losses. The silly moves from Leyland began with not letting Scherzer pitch the 8th, and went on from there, including the 9th, when he used a sixth pitcher. The more pitchers you use, particularly when you get to 4 or more, the more your probable winning percentage goes down. I don’t know that there could be an enforceable rule about limiting pitching changes.

    The hitter getting timeout all the time is a large issue though, throughout the season. It used to be you had to request a time out, and often it was not granted. I have seen several occasions this year when time out was granted while a pitcher was in his windup. The batter should not be allowed to walk around between pitches.

    Truthfully, there are already rules for this in place, but I have never seen them called. The pitcher must deliver his next pitch 12 seconds after receiving the ball with the bases empty and within 20 seconds with runners on they must throw to the plate or a base or a ball is called. This has never actually happened that I have seen, at least partially because the umps give many hitters more time than that to get ready. The batter is supposed to have one foot in the batter’s box between pitches, and if he leaves the batter’s box a strike is supposed to be called. (I have not seen this one either)

    The batter time to prepare himself (I could not find a rule for this) should be at most half the time the pitcher gets. If a pitcher delivers a pitch 6 seconds after receiving the ball with the bases empty or 10 seconds after with runners on and the batter is not ready, too bad. They should be more prepared. Time outs should only be granted for a real equipment failure (not just the fact that the batter wants to adjust every single thing he is wearing completely between each pitch so that it is perfect), the catcher going to the mound, (which should only happen a max of once per hitter) or occasionally (for about 5 seconds or so) for the batter to get the sign from the base coaches clearly, or anomalies such as bugs in the eye etc.

    The pitching coach should get one visit, per inning, per pitcher. The manager should be forced to change pitchers the first time they come out to the mound. You should be able to intentionally walk a hitter by calling for it and not having to throw 4 meaningless pitches. (Yes, once a decade something unusual happens, but I am willing to live without that infinitesimal possibility.)

    The rules are mostly in place, just like the strike zone was already in place in the late 90′s and early 00′s when umps were using some sort of top of the knee to bottom of the crotch strike zone. The ones in place just need to be used, with a couple of very small changes.

    Watch the game with a stopwatch some time, and add up all the extra time that is taken by the unnecessary timeouts, the extra time between pitches, extra visits to the mound, and intentional walks and see just how large of a percentage of the time of the game it is. You will be shocked.

    Reply
    1. bellweather22

      For a while the Braves replayed their games on TV the next morning, showing payoff pitches only. With commercials and extra commentary, the replays took 30 minutes. It’s a great way to watch a game when you don’t feel like watching pitching changes, deep counts, etc.

      Reply
  16. Anonymous

    What if a manager was required to stick with a relief pitcher for three batters. If they decide to pull the pitcher after one batter, the next batter starts with a 2-0 count (or a 1-0 count if the pull the pitcher after two batters).

    I also think that there should be some penalty for undoing/redoing the Velcro on your batting gloves between each pitch. And if we are going to let batters wear armor (and even the guards protecting your instep from foul balls), then the batter should have to wear those devices while running the bases.

    Reply
  17. BeninDSM

    How about the Umpire enforces the Pitch clock and it doesn’t reset if you throw to first. It would even increase scoring!

    Reply
  18. JayJay

    I’ve spent some time in Mexico recently, where I’ve had occasion to catch some MLB games on Mexican TV. I speak very little Spanish. I’ve found that since I don’t understand most of what the announcers say, the amount of time between pitches is interminable. I fin myself getting more and more irritated at the pitcher and batter as they just waste time doing nothing.

    Reply
  19. Cumbrian

    As a strategy for cutting game time, if you limit pitching substitutions, won’t batting teams just foul off as many pitches as possible to wear pitchers down and get to poorer pitchers? I guess this might be acceptable from a game-strategic point of view but it strikes me that you’re might well not cut the time of the game that much.

    Reply
  20. Bob Lince

    The answer is day-time baseball. If they have somewhere to go after the game, they’ll get done quicker.

    And cut out the charter flights, too.

    Reply
  21. Daniel

    Chris Webber was granted a time out on that play. The only problem was that he was assess a technical foul. I think that’s what the original poster was implying. You can call as many time outs as you want in a college basketball game. It’s just that after 5 time outs, you start receiving technical fouls with each one.

    Reply
  22. Mark Daniel

    Does the length of games matter to people in the Western time zone?
    The reason I ask is that I only have a problem when it’s 12:30am and the game is in the 8th inning. This seems to be an Eastern time zone issue.
    So, is the problem the actual length of games or lateness of the hour?

    Reply
  23. Richard

    Please, by all that’s holy and sacred, quit whining about how long baseball games are!

    The average length of an MLB game is a few minutes under three hours.

    An NFL game has sixty minutes of clock time. From opening kickoff to final whistle, it takes about three hours to play – the same as an MLB game. But you don’t see anyone complaining about all those time outs and pauses for official review and hold ups while the officials move the chains…(and why do they even bother with those chains when placement of the football is all guesswork anyway?)

    An NBA game takes 48 minutes of clock time, but about two and a half hours to actually play. Most of that is due to the twenty or so minutes it takes to play the last two minutes of clock time. Does anyone gripe about that?

    Reply
    1. W Burnette

      You must see different sites than I do. I hear a decent amount about the pace of play in the NFL. Go watch a game live and see the players milling around during the commercial breaks. I hear less about basketball, mainly because it seems shorter. But some people do.

      Nevertheless, why do we need to sit through the extra time that is wasted by the teams/broadcast? As paying customers, we have the right to complain that the product they are presenting does not meet our needs. If you are happy with the games, would you be upset with a shorter contest if the changes did not remove the fundamentals of the game itself?

      Reply
    2. Sam

      Yes. There’s constant discussion about the last 2 minutes of basketball games and the excessive commercial breaks partway through quarters.

      I’ve heard tons of people (don’t know about writers) who complain about the amount of time challenges take. Nobody likes sitting and watching the same replay over and over and over again while the commentators tell us how obvious the call was, then proceed to backtrack as the time drags on, then go on and remind us that the evidence has to be indisputable to overturn the ruling on the field. And don’t get me started on the whole score – commercial – kickoff – commercial business.

      The others are guilty. but we’re talking about baseball, and baseball tends to be the worst offender.

      Reply
  24. Anonymous

    Tongue in cheek means there was something funny or you were trying to make a point. I saw no evidence of either, so I had to presume you were serious. Random comments do not equal tongue in cheek. They are just random. Try to make it humorous next time so we can tell

    Reply
  25. denopac

    Pitchers should be allowed three unsuccessful throws to first base per batter, period. After the third unsuccessful throw the runner gets second base. Not only would this speed up the game, it would make it more interesting as runners adjusted the length of their lead depending on the throw count.

    Reply
  26. Perry T

    James is wrong that pitching substitutions must be limited. It would suffice to not grant a newly-inserted pitcher all those darn warmup pitches. He’s been warming up in the pen. There’s no need for that. Just start pitching.

    Reply

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