On Bees, Pandas, and Hit-by-Pitches

Aside from the cool 1911 denim throwback uniforms worn by the home team, Sunday’s Giants-Reds game was a relatively conventional affair. The Reds ran up a 4-0 first inning lead thanks in part to a three-pitch, three-homer sequence, Luis Castillo threw some devastating changeups but also gave up a game-tying three-run homer to Buster Posey, and the Giants won, 6-5. Zzzzz, right? Monday’s game, on the other hand, featured several different flavors of wild, all of them worth savoring. Twenty years from now, somebody will do an oral history of this game, and ESPN will air a 30 for 30 feature.

Let’s start with the bees. More bzzzz than zzzzz…

You thought I was kidding? A swarm of ’em delayed the start of the game by 18 minutes, perhaps a message from above about those weird wraparound series, where teams play Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday just to mess with peoples’ circadian rhythms. Or something.

Jesus, Felipe, and Matty Alou, that looks miserable. In an effort to lighten the mood, Derek Dietrich, who wasn’t in the lineup on Monday, made a cameo as an exterminator:

The umpires, clearly no more familiar with Dietrich — who somehow leads the team in home runs, with nine — than the rest of us, didn’t get that he was a player until he showed them his jersey and some bling. Honestly, the gag might have worked better if an instantly recognizable star like Yasiel Puig or Joey Votto wore the gear. Puig could have hammed it up, and finished by bat-flipping the wand and wagging his tongue. Ah well.

It turns out this wasn’t even the first time these two teams were delayed by bees. A similar thing happened on April 17, 1976, when some 5,000 to 10,000 bees — ponder that number for a moment — in the visiting dugout of Riverfront Stadium stung more than a dozen people (including some Giants players) and caused a 35-minute delay. Another game at Riverfront, on May 11, 1987, featured a 17-minute delay during which Reds pitcher Ted Power was stung. Who knew Cincinnati was so full of bees?

Via The Athletic’s C. Trent Rosecrans, we now know that Monday’s swarm was eventually wrangled by a pair of off-duty beekeepers who just happened to be attending the game separately, and recognized that the situation was caused by the migration of a queen bee. They eventually corralled the Queen City queen and an estimated 50,000 to 75,000 bees — like, waaaay more than the 1976 instance — in a box that previously held Votto bobbleheads. Would it further unsettle you to know that 50,000 to 75,000 bees weigh about 10 pounds? Sorry about that, then.

While Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani pitched adequately afterwards, Giants starter Drew Pomeranz did not. On his second pitch of the day, he served up a home run to 23-year-old hotshot rookie Nick Senzel, playing in just his fourth major league game (he hit his first homer on Saturday). Two batters later, following a Votto infield single, Pomeranz lost an 11-pitch battle with Eugenio Suarez, who hit a two-run homer. A walk and two hits later — the big one being a Jose Iglesias triple — the Reds had a 5-0 lead, and the Giants had run their first-inning deficit for 2019 to 33-2. That’s right, they’ve been outscored by 31 runs in the first inning of their 35 games thus far, and for [checks notes] most of those games, they don’t have the excuse of hordes of insects to fall back upon.

The Giants countered with a run in the top of the second thanks in part to a Suarez error and a Pablo Sandoval steal of third base, the first time he’d done that in his career, and just the 12th bag he’d swiped in 12 major league seasons; his most recent one took place on September 19, 2012. Senzel led off the bottom of the frame with another homer. Here’s the pair:

Per the Baseball-Reference Play Index, the last time a leadoff hitter homered in both the first and second inning of the same game was last July 20, when the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter took it out on the Cubs’ Jon Lester. Before that, the Nationals’ Bryce Harper did it against the Phillies’ Nick Pivetta on May 4, 2018; the Twins’ Brian Dozier did it against the Rangers’ Martin Perez on August 4, 2017; the Astros’ George Springer did it against the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka on May 14, 2017… you get the idea. It’s not solo-homer-and-a-shutout uncommon, but according to MLB.com’s Sara Langs, no Reds leadoff hitter has done it since at least 1914.

Now that’s surprising, particularly considering that Pete Rose hit 114 homers out of the Reds’ leadoff spot, with Barry Larkin (32), Kal Daniels (29), Gary Redus (29), Zack Cozart (28), and Brandon Phillips (27) showing some muscle as well. Yet it took a Red more than a century to run into a couple like that. Anyway, they scored again in the second thanks to three more hits, the big one of which was an Iglesias double, which spelled the end of Pomeranz’s nasty, brutish, and short afternoon (1.2 innings, nine hits, seven runs).

The Giants looked as though they might make a game of it when Sandoval hit a three-run homer off DeSclafani in the top of the sixth, trimming the lead to 7-4, but then the Reds countered with five runs in the bottom of the inning. Ambidextrous reliever Pat Venditte — he’s on the Giants now, having passed through both hands of the Yankees, A’s, Blue Jays, Mariners, Phillies, and Dodgers, in case your attention to replacement level relievers has wavered — pitched a scoreless fifth but lost the plot in the sixth. With one out, pitching right-handed, he hit Suarez, then walked Puig, allowed three straight singles (plating three runs), then hit Jose Peraza to force in the fourth run. Switching to his left hand, he drilled lefty pinch-hitter Josh VanMeter, thus achieving what might have been a major league first (the Play Index does not have granular coverage of the 19th century exploits of fellow switch-pitchers Tony Mullane, Larry Corcoran, or Ice Box Chamberlain). Way to go, amphibious pitcher!

Manager Bruce Bochy, perhaps wishing he’d retired at the end of last season rather than waited to sit through this, brought in Sam Dyson, who struck out Senzel and then … hit Votto to drive in another run, making the score 12-4. Ouch. The four hit batsmen tied a single-inning major league record set on August 19, 1893 when Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers plunked four Boston Braves batters.

In the bottom of the eighth, Bochy summoned Sandoval for his second major league pitching appearance, figuratively posing the question, “You think you can do better, big boy? Well, here you go.” No doubt wanting in on history, the Panda plunked Peraza with his fourth pitch. The five hit-by-pitches tied the modern NL record, most recently “accomplished” on August 23, 2017, when the Padres’ Jhoulys Chacin and Buddy Baumann hit five Cardinals; since then, however, the AL has had a six-HBP game, between the Rangers (getting the ouchies) and Astros on June 9, 2018. The hit-by-pitches also helped the 2019 season maintain its spot as the second-plunkiest on record (1.071% of all plate appearances).

Sandoval atoned, getting VanMeter to fly out and then inducing Senzel to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, the first one generated by a position player pitching this season; there were seven last year, not including those induced by Shohei Ohtani. In all, he threw 10 pitches, eight of them sliders (the fastest of which was clocked at 84.3 mph) and two curves. He could lay claim to throwing the game’s slowest pitch (68.3 mph on the curve that hit Peraza) and producing the fastest exit velocity (107.8 mph on the homer). Here’s the highlight reel of his big day:

So that’s two scoreless innings under Sandoval’s belt; no word yet on if the Giants are going to put out a second commemorative bobblehead to go with the one they’re giving away on May 11.

“Pitching is not easy,” Sandoval said afterwards, “but it’s easy for me because I have fun with it. I don’t care about the situation.”

So despite ending up on the short end of a 12-4 score, Sandoval and the Giants managed to upstage the bees, Senzel, Iglesias, and some hit-by-pitch records. Some days, baseball is indeed several different flavors of wild.

We hoped you liked reading On Bees, Pandas, and Hit-by-Pitches by Jay Jaffe!

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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