The 17 best pitcher at-bats
The end of pitcher at-bats might finally be nigh. In January talks, the Major League Baseball Players Association apparently proposed going forward with the plan for a universal designated hitter, with the position potentially adopted by the National League as soon as this season, The Athletic reported this week.
For fans of Weird Baseball, this is dismaying. Expanding the DH to the National League would mean the end of a decades-old tradition of pitchers fumbling through at-bats or surprising us with performances as good as any professional batter's.
Here's a look at what we could lose with the universal DH — the good, the goofy, and the glorious of pitcher at-bats.
17. The most jaw-dropping at-bat of all time
San Francisco Giants at Miami Marlins, 2011
One of the most amazing pitcher at-bats of all time could easily also be called the "worst plate appearance in baseball history." Giants reliever Santiago Casilla approached the plate — uh, if you could even generously call it an "approach" — to take what he, and everyone else, assumed was going to be a strikeout. Castilla, who had never batted in the majors, didn't even bother looking like he wanted to attempt to hit the ball. But somehow Marlins reliever Jose Ceda was even worse: With literally no one even at the plate, he walked Casilla on four pitches. How. How?!
16. Paging Hector Santiago!
Chicago White Sox at New York Mets, 2013
For some pitchers, batting is fun. For others, it's ... well, forgettable. In the sixth inning of a late spring game in 2013, White Sox pitcher Hector Santiago conveniently forgot that he was due up to face the Mets' Matt Harvey in the National League park, failing to emerge from the clubhouse when it was his turn in the lineup. Hey, who can blame him? Interleague play is rough.
15. Trevor Bauer puts on a show
Cleveland Indians at Pittsburg Pirates, 2015
MLB's resident clown and drone repairman Trevor Bauer made a joke out of his at-bat against the Pirates' Antonio Bastardo in 2015. The announcers — and Indians dugout — immediately caught on as Bauer parroted the batting stances of teammates Ryan Raburn, Mike Aviles, and Jason Kipnis, all without even cracking a giveaway smile.
14. Jose Fernandez gives team the lead in the 12th
Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves, 2016
Jose Fernandez was gone tragically too soon, but is remembered for his talents both on the mound and on the plate. In 2016, he helped lead the Marlins win after pinch-hitting and landing a two-run double through the gap. "That's always been like a dream, to play in the outfield or to pinch-hit like that," Fernandez told MLB.com. "But when it actually happened, I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm actually doing this.'"
13. Shohei Ohtani earns his reputation
Cleveland Indians at Los Angeles Angels, 2018
Shohei Ohtani's inclusion here is a bit of a cheat — his debut in Anaheim was, of course, an American League game, and he was not a starting pitcher. Still, I would be remiss to exclude this pitcher-hitter, who is drawing early comparisons to Babe Ruth for his talent both behind the bat and in front of it. During his debut in California, the Japanese rookie hit a 397-foot three-run homer, silencing any of his doubters. "The talent is unbelievable," admired another best in the sport — hitting legend and teammate Mike Trout.
12. Pedro Martinez charges the mound
Montreal Expos at Philadelphia Phillies, 1996
Expos pitcher Pedro Martinez had a reputation for clipping batters, but the tables turned on a late September day in 1996 when he was thrown at in retaliation by Phillies pitcher Mike Williams. Williams' second pitch went behind Martinez, who chucked aside his bat and charged the mound. You don't typically see that sort of fight break out between pitchers, making this one of the weirder at-bats.
11. Charles Nagy's accidental at-bat
Toronto Blue Jays at Cleveland Indians, 1999
Not every pitcher at-bat is going to be pretty, but some are much uglier than others. In 1999, a mix-up with the designated hitter caused Indians starter Charles Nagy to be standing on the wrong side of the mound. Manager Mike Hargrove had listed Manny Ramirez as DH, with Alex Ramirez in right field, but then the Blue Jays pointed out that Manny Ramirez had taken his spot in right field in the top of the first. The Indians then lost their DH due to a designated hitter taking a field position, meaning Nagy was forced to become the first Indians pitcher to bat in an American League park since 1978. "I had no idea what was going on," Nagy, who struck out in the second and fouled out in the fourth, told The Associated Press. "I still don't really know what happened."
10. Welcome to the major leagues, Kenta Maeda
Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Pardres, 2016
Most of the time when a pitcher is up to bat in their major league debut, you want to cover your eyes. But Maeda introduced himself to Dodgers fans in the most dramatic fashion possible, with the righty hitting a solo home run to left field in his first hit and first home run of his stateside career. "We're going to go tomahawk steak, something pretty big," an impressed Dave Roberts, the Dodgers' manager, told MLB.com afterwards, although the website added Maeda "still needs much work on his home run bat flip."
9. Max Scherzer saves the day
Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves, 2018
Some of the greatest pitcher at-bats come during extra innings, such as when the Nationals' three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer was called up to pinch hit for pitcher Justin Miller in the top of the 14th against the Braves. Scherzer might not have hit a game-winning home run, but he could be counted on to shoot a single up through the middle. He subsequently became the go-ahead run after scoring off a triple behind him. "Holy cow," an excited Scherzer told USA Today afterward. "I got a hit and scored a run. That's too cool. I never thought in a million years it would happen."
8. The ol' bunt + home run combo
Milwaukee Brewers at Cincinnati Reds, 2018
Michael Lorenzen wasn’t called out on an attempted bunt with 2 strikes and next pitch ends up hitting a dinger pic.twitter.com/v8DHvevJis
— Kent (@RealKentMurphy) August 30, 2018
Reds reliever Michael Lorenzen is known to be pretty good at the plate, although he got an extremely lucky break last year when his bat connected with Brewers reliever Taylor Williams' ball, then rolled foul, after Lorenzen had set up for a bunt on a 0-2 count. While many would argue that Lorenzen should have been out after that, the umpire determined that Lorenzen had pulled back enough from the bunt that it was a regular foul, giving him another pitch to make it up. He did — with a three-run home run.
7. The Zack Greinke signature bat flip
Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers, 2015
There's nothing quite like the joy on a pitcher's face when they hit a ball hard. That being said, former Dodger Zack Greinke isn't exactly one to show a lot of emotion. Hitting a double in 2015, the only way you can tell Greinke's elation is from his enthusiastic bat flip. Seven career home runs later, the Greinke bat flip has become something of a signature.
6. Babe Ruth's Polo Grounds homer
Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees, 1915
The most incredible pitcher-hitter of all, Babe Ruth led the major leagues in homers while still a pitcher in 1917. But perhaps his most iconic moment at the plate as an ace was when he started against the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds opposite Jack Warhop in May 1915. In the third inning, Ruth connected with the ball and sent a home run into the park's upper decks, stunning 5,000 or so onlookers — it marked the Sultan of Swat's first major league home run. "This run looked as tall as the Woolworth Building," a dazzled Boston Globe writer remarked. While Ruth was ultimately the losing pitcher when the game ran 4-3 in the 13th, that 1915 game was a whisper of the incredible baseball prowess that was to come.
5. Madison Bumgarner's grand slam
Colorado Rockies at San Francisco Giants, 2014
San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner is almost as scary at the plate as he is on the mound. The two-time silver slugger is so good, in fact, that it's hard to pick just one of his at-bats to highlight — so I've gone ahead and picked two. In the first, Bumgarner sends Jorge De La Rosa's pitch back into the left-field seats, giving the Giants the edge to pull ahead of Colorado. "They don't really expect a whole lot out of pitchers so we get to go up there with no pressure," Bumgarner casually explained to USA Today. "It's easier to hit that way, but at the same time it's the hardest thing to do in sports."
4. Brandon Woodruff hits a postseason homer off Clayton Kershaw
Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers, 2018
There is no pitcher in the game like Clayton Kershaw, which makes him an intimidating opponent on the mound even if your only job is just to hit baseballs. Unfortunately for the Brewers' relief pitcher Brandon Woodruff, his job was mostly just to throw them. Finding himself in the unlucky position of batting against Kershaw in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series in 2018, Woodruff saw a pitch he liked and swung — and, to everyone's disbelief, connected. Even the other team had to be impressed: "To see the ball go out of the ballpark against Clayton, obviously, that was a surprise to all of us," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told MLB.com.
3. Madison Bumgarner pinch-hits for 12th-inning walk-off
San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, 2018
Bumgarner's second appearance on this list comes from his game against the San Diego Padres last September. But what makes this at-bat particularly memorable is that Bumgarner did not even pitch in the game — in the 12th inning, with the game tied at 4, the ace was called up to bat after Gorkys Hernandez tripled. MadBum incredibly knocked in the game-winning pinch-hit single. Whoever said pitchers can't bat?
2. Micah Owings' historic game
Arizona Diamondbacks at Atlanta Braves, 2007
It's always incredible when pitchers have as great a game as a batter on their best day. Starting against the Braves in 2007, the Diamondback's Micah Owings had a once-in-a-lifetime game, hitting a double, then a dinger, then another dinger, then a broken-bat single, MLB.com recounts. Oh, and he gave up just three runs on three hits, pitching through seven innings. Some people just make it look easy.
1. Bartolo Colon's glorious home run
New York Mets at San Diego Padres, 2016
There is one name you will always hear come up in defense of pitchers hitting: New York Mets RHP Bartolo Colon. On the verge of retirement at the age of 43, Big Sexy hit the world's most beautiful home run off San Diego Padres starter James Shields. "I wasn't paying attention, I was mid-conversation with somebody in the dugout," recalled Mets starter Noah Syndergaard in For The Win's oral history of the at-bat. "I heard the crack of the bat, and it sounded like a cannon going off." But the best part wasn't the bat's connection with the ball — it was Colon's victory trot around the bases. The stuff of baseball legends.