Baseball Will Surprise You — 5/20/13

A true and old expression, paraphrased, is that you never know what you might see when you go to the ballpark. A similar old expression is that whenever you go to the ballpark you’ll see something you’ve never seen before. Taken completely literally, this is true — every single pitch, every single swing, every single ball in play, every single act, specifically, is unprecedented. A baseball game has infinite coordinates and infinite possible paths. Taken less literally, some games are boring and feel like games you’ve seen before, but baseball is nevertheless full of surprises. If it doesn’t always show you something you’ve never seen, it at least frequently shows you something you’ve seldom seen. This is the magic of a sport with so many repetitions. Put another way, this is the magic of baseball.

On this particular Monday, two games are in the books as of this writing. The Indians walked off against the Mariners, and the Blue Jays hosted and defeated the Rays. Both of those things have happened before, but the games themselves included a handful of rarities. I thought it’d be a good idea to show some of them off, just to remind you that this sport we watch is insane. Below, you’ll see four things that happened that very rarely happen. For all I know I missed a couple more. Not included is that Colby Rasmus went a full game without striking out, but know that I thought about it. On now to four bits of weirdness.

Endy Chavez knocked a pinch-hit home run

The Mariners and Indians were tied 6-6 in the top of the ninth when Chris Perez came in from the Cleveland bullpen. Kelly Shoppach was set to lead off, but Eric Wedge subbed in Chavez from his bench. The idea, presumably, was to leverage the platoon advantage, to maybe get Chavez on first and then to bunt him to second with Robert Andino. Chavez instead just did all of the work, driving an 0-and-1 fastball out to right-center to put the Mariners in front. It was Chavez’s first home run of the season, which is a sentence I imagine I didn’t need to type.

Endy Chavez had not never hit a home run — indeed, this was his 27th. But he debuted in 2001, and he’s never hit more than five in a season. This was Chavez’s second career pinch-hit home run, in his 133rd plate appearance. Gary Carter hit one in 129. Tony Gwynn hit zero in 111. Previously, Chavez knocked a pinch-hit homer off Kevin Gregg in 2008 in an 0-and-2 count. That would’ve come as a terrible surprise, to Gregg and to fans of his team. As did this latest Chavez home run, to Perez and to fans of his team. In some plate appearances, you just take a non-homer for granted. The possibility doesn’t even cross your mind. That would’ve applied to Chavez’s plate appearance, and it’s going to continue to apply to Chavez’s plate appearances down the road, but in this plate appearance, there was a most unlikely outcome.

Michael Bourn got doubled up

I suppose the situation doesn’t really matter. Monday afternoon, Michael Bourn grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, and here’s what it looked like:


One would’ve guessed that such a play would’ve required something somewhat spectacular. This double play was made by a sharply-hit grounder and Brendan Ryan, but now it’s in the books as Bourn’s first double play of the year.

As a guy who hits a lot of grounders, Bourn might hit into a lot of potential double plays. But as a guy who runs incredibly well, Bourn avoids them. This was just the 20th double play of his career. Miguel Cabrera hit into 28 double plays last season. Baseball-Reference keeps track of double-play opportunities. The league average is about one double play per nine opportunities. Bourn shows up at about one per 20. Last year, in 84 opportunities, Bourn hit into two double plays, or as many as Omir Santos did in four opportunities. In 2009, Bourn hit into one in 80.

From contact to first base, Bourn took about 4.1 seconds. From contact to first base, the ball took about 4.0 seconds. Everything needs to go exactly right in order to get Bourn doubled up, and in this case, the Mariners were the lucky ones.

Tom Wilhelmsen recorded a blown save on a fielding error

In consecutive innings for the Mariners, Tom Wilhelmsen and Charlie Furbush registered blown saves. Here’s how the first one of those happened, with two outs in the ninth:


Wilhelmsen easily could’ve recorded a more conventional blown save had that hot grounder gotten through Justin Smoak. Instead, Smoak made a great diving stop, and he set up Wilhelmsen to step on first base for the final out, but Wilhelmsen acted as if he was in a rush even though he had plenty of time, and he lost sight of the baseball. The Indians tied the game, and within several more minutes they’d walk off as winners.

Pitcher errors aren’t that rare. Every season, there are a few hundred of them, most commonly because the pitcher throws wildly to another base. Roughly three of every four pitcher errors are throwing errors, leaving just a fraction chalked up to fielding errors. This particular play above is a play that gets practiced, specifically because it’s an unfamiliar situation for pitchers to be in, but because it’s practiced it’s assumed it’ll be carried out competently in a game, and this is a case of a pitcher just dropping the easiest possible throw and losing a win in the process. Tom Wilhelmsen needed to catch a lob from a few feet away, and the Mariners would’ve avoided a sweep. He looked at the base instead of at the baseball.

I’m certain this has happened before. I don’t know how to look for it. I can’t remember seeing this for myself. There are more ways to blow a save than you can imagine.

Munenori Kawasaki hit maybe the longest ball in play of his career

Kawasaki faced off against Kyle Farnsworth in the bottom of the eighth, and Kawasaki slashed the first pitch into right-center field. Maybe because of the shadows, or maybe because it was Munenori Kawasaki, Matt Joyce took an initial step in. He then tried to recover, but the ball wound up sailing over his head for an RBI triple. Here’s where the ball came down:


For our purposes, it doesn’t matter that Joyce let the ball get by. Even if he’d made the catch, this still would’ve gone as maybe Kawasaki’s longest career batted ball. On the fly, I mean, and here I’ve approximated the location on a Texas Leaguers spray chart:


That green box by the left-center 375 was a line drive that bounced well in front of the track. Gameday records not where a ball in play landed, but rather where it was fielded. So it looks like Monday did indeed bring Kawasaki’s deepest batted ball yet. The problem is that Gameday coordinates are approximations, subject to human error, so we can’t be absolutely certain of anything. Having gone over some Kawasaki highlight footage, some of these locations seem suspicious. But I haven’t seen anything that strongly suggests that Kawasaki has hit a ball farther. It might be close, but it seems like on Monday, Kawasaki hit his first Munenori Kawasaki version of a home run.

Kawasaki, now, has a higher 2013 ISO than both Elvis Andrus and Dustin Ackley. He’s ever so close to catching Eric Hosmer and Matt Kemp. Just thought that should go somewhere.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Brazen Reader
9 years ago

Yesterday, at my kid’s little league game, the SS fielded the ball, tagged second to force a runner, and then ran to first base to complete the unassisted double play.

9 years ago
Reply to  Brazen Reader

Was Jesus Montero the batter?

9 years ago
Reply to  joser

It was Paul Konerko’s son, Nicholas.

9 years ago
Reply to  Brazen Reader

*Something about Carmelo Anthony being a ball-hog.*

9 years ago
Reply to  Brazen Reader

I remember a tee ball game I played in where the opposing centerfielder recorded an unassisted triple-play by catching a fly ball and tagging 2nd and 1st base himself. That is one of three memories I have of tee ball.

9 years ago
Reply to  Brazen Reader

I didn’t know Bengie Molina was still playing.