How To Allow 10 or More Runs in Less Than One Inning

It was a Fourth of July spectacle in Boston in 1948: the final game of a three-game set between the Red Sox and Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, the latter just a half-game behind Cleveland in the American League race. The Red Sox had failed to muster much of any offense against the A’s in the previous two games, losing by scores of 4-2 and 8-2. This final contest, though, was proving more competitive. A’s starter Carl Scheib held the Red Sox to just a run through the first four innings; the Red Sox’s Ellis Kinder held the A’s scoreless. The Red Sox added another run in the fifth; the A’s answered by taking a one-run lead in the top of the sixth. The Red Sox got three more runs back in the bottom of the inning, giving them the lead once again, and knocking Scheib out of the game. The A’s tied it up again in the top of the seventh. For a brief, peaceful moment, the score was a calm, reasonable 5-5.

I mentioned that Scheib had been knocked out of the game in the sixth. The reliever responsible for the last out of the inning was a rookie by the name of Charles Harris, also known as Charlie, or Charley, or, apparently, Bubba. Charlie Harris was 22 years old, and since making his debut in April of that year, had been a very reliable reliever for Mack’s team. He even pitched a scoreless seven-inning hold. Entering the July 4 game in the bottom of the seventh, he had a 1.09 ERA.

Ted Williams led off the inning with a walk. A bunt single followed, then another walk. Yet another walk gave the Red Sox the lead. Four batters in, and it was clear that Harris didn’t have it — he had never before walked more than two batters in a pitching appearance. But Mack left him in. It was Harris’s inning, and Harris needed to finish it.

And so he continued, even after another hit scored two more runs; even after three more hits, including two doubles, followed that one. It was only after the fourth walk of the inning — the second one issued to Williams — that Harris got the inning’s first out. Another single and another walk, and Harris, finally, was removed from the game. He left with the bases loaded; nine runs had crossed the plate in the long minutes he’d spent on the mound. His replacement, Bill McCahan, allowed all three runs Harris left on the bases to score, and contributed two more to the Red Sox’ now-bloated tally. The inning only ended on Williams’ third plate appearance of the inning — a groundout, an act of mercy. What was once a 5-5 game was now a 19-5 laugher, and the rookie Harris was now the owner of one of the worst pitching lines in baseball history. There is some dubiousness about exactly how bad it was: Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet note Harris as having recorded two outs in the inning, though the play-by-play and contemporary newspaper reports say it was just the one. What is clear is that he started an inning and he did not finish it, and that, in the course of that incomplete inning, he was responsible for the Red Sox scoring 12 runs.

It’s entirely possible that the Red Sox fans in attendance loved it, that they were rancorously cheering the onslaught. But the reaction from the media was sober. The Associated Press called the victory “hollow,” describing the inning as a “terrible baseball nightmare” and a “ludicrous burlesque.” The other Athletics were “distressed” to witness what had happened to their rookie teammate. Connie Mack, for his part, offered the usual logic: The team had entered the series with only eight pitchers available and had a doubleheader coming up the next day. Mack wanted to preserve his staff, and Harris should have been able to finish the inning.

Harris declined to comment. The following year, he appeared in 37 games with little success; he didn’t pitch in the major leagues again until 1951. After five games that year, his big-league career was over.

***

I encountered Harris’s story in trying to find historical precedent for Carlos Martínez’s start against the Dodgers last Wednesday. That appearance, like Harris’, was a disaster of historic proportions: Martínez failed to finish the first inning, during which time the Dodgers hung 10 runs on him. Last year’s Dodgers memorably scored 11 in the first inning of Game 3 during last year’s NLCS, but this was the first time they’d done so as the Los Angeles Dodgers during the regular season. And Kyle Wright, the unfortunate starter of the NLCS 11-run inning, didn’t experience quite the same level of catastrophe that Martínez did, with only seven earned runs attributed to him during his ill-fated two outs of work.

Martínez’s day began with a Mookie Betts double, followed by a Max Muncy walk, followed by singles from Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger, followed by a play that had a distant chance to make the inning’s first out at the plate but instead turned into a bit of a farce. The only out in the Dodgers’ first time through the order was the pitcher, Walker Buehler. Three batters later, after walking Turner, Martínez was out of the game, leaving the bases loaded for Jake Woodford to take over. And it was against Woodford, with the runners Martínez had left behind, that Bellinger dealt the critical blow: a grand slam that made the score 11-1.

As he walked off the mound, Martínez shook his head, talking to himself — with a shrug, almost, as though to convince himself of something.

***

There are many things that have to go wrong for a pitcher to allow double-digit earned runs without recording three outs, but perhaps the most critical is timing. There have been five pitchers, including Martínez and Harris, who are in the records as having experienced this fate. All of them except Harris were hammered in the first inning — the first inning, where the manager is desperately hoping that his starter can at least get out of a single frame, allow at least a little more time for relievers to hastily warm up, or perhaps even settle down and get a few more innings in. The need for a starter to get through the first, and the rarity of such catastrophic performances, is what allows them to go on and on. Because, with the exception of Harris in the first year of his career, every pitcher who has found themselves trapped in one of these nightmares had years of major-league experience behind them — hundreds and hundreds of innings wherein this had not happened.

There was Luke Hudson in 2006, a month into his return from the bullpen, who managed just an out in the first against Cleveland as they scored 11 runs — with an E6 behind him. The following year, it was Jason Jennings for the Astros, allowing 11 runs while recording only two outs — his final three batters an excruciating sequence of home run, single, home run. And in 2017, it was Jeremy Guthrie, in his first start of the season and the last start of his major-league career, with a line nearly identical to Martínez’s last week: ten runs, six hits, four walks, two outs recorded.

When he walked off the field, he had to have known that his time with the Nationals was over, even as the Phillies fans applauded him, even as Anthony Rendon, visiting on the mound, tried to laugh with him. Even though he had had another historically awful start a few years before, and managed to stick in the big leagues — had, in fact, won the World Series that very same year. Not this time. It was his 38th birthday, after all.

***

There comes a time when you look back and realize that the days when it was easy are behind you. Though they didn’t seem easy back then, either — why couldn’t you have appreciated it? When you could you do this thing without pain, without having to think so much about it. Before any of that happened. When the recovery time was shorter, so short that you didn’t even notice. It appears the most in the everyday, in the accumulation of actions that were once necessary but doable. Time wears itself into them, adds to each of them its strange weight, and suddenly, the heaviness is overwhelming. What was once thoughtless now consumes all thought. What was once simple now seems, if not impossible, then almost unbearable. It comes at different times for different people, yet the understanding is never less painful to receive: It’s not going to be the same, and it never will be.

But this is life; it is your one life, and it is yours alone to live. To dwell on a past that no longer exists will not make the tasks of living in the present any easier. You fail — you drop the weight you have to carry — and it is you who must pick it back up, and it is you who must continue, even though many more failures may lie ahead of you. There is nothing to be done except keep going: for as long as you can, for as long as you are allowed, before you reach the point where you can’t anymore.

Carlos Martínez debuted in the major leagues in 2013, at the age of 21. He’s 29 now, a veteran, with success in his past. He made only five appearances last year; this year, he’s been inconsistent, injured due to a simple celebration. He’ll be a free agent at the end of this season. This line is part of what he has to carry.





RJ is the dilettante-in-residence at FanGraphs. Previous work can be found at Baseball Prospectus, VICE Sports, and The Hardball Times.

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hortonwho
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hortonwho

I thought for sure Chan Ho Park’s 11 runs in 2/3 of the third inning on April 23, 1999 would come up — complete with two grand slams for Fernando Tatis, Jr,’s Dad! That would have provided some balm for my Cardinal fan soul. (Especially as Martinez’ inning has proved predictive of the Cardinals’ overall performance since then.) However, only six of the runs off Park were earned.

rosen380
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Two grand slams off of the same pitcher in the same inning of the same game feels like a pretty secure record 🙂