The Least Competitive Game in Recent Memory

In Steph Curry’s junior season, his Davidson Wildcats played a non-conference game against Loyola Maryland. Curry led the nation in scoring at the time, and as expected, Davidson rolled that night. But Curry himself didn’t score a point. Loyola’s coach, Jimmy Patsos, instructed his players to double-team Curry up and down the court. So, Curry stood in the corner with two Greyhounds next to him as his teammates played 4-on-3 and won by 30.

After the game, Patsos more or less copped to the farce. Defending his tactics, he asked: “Anybody else ever hold him scoreless? I’m a history major. [Are people] going to remember that we held him scoreless or we lost by 30?”

Whether all that makes Patsos infamous, cynical, or pathetic is up to your interpretation. Regardless, he’s right about one thing: you can generate attention in defeat, even humiliating defeat, so long as you lose in notable fashion.

It’s a lesson the Seattle Mariners reinforced over the weekend. On the surface, Sunday’s matchup between Seattle and Houston looked as lopsided on paper as a major league game can. The Astros are perhaps baseball’s best team; the Mariners may lose 100 games. Cy Young contender Gerrit Cole was on the mound for Houston, opposed by former Cy Young winner but current-6.00-ERA-holder Félix Hernández. The Astros had already defeated Seattle 15 times in 16 tries. Vegas handicappers set one of the highest lines I can ever remember seeing for a major league contest.

This being baseball, anything can happen on any given day, and as it turned out, 35,000 Houstonians saw a pretty spectacular version of “anything:” the most lopsided ballgame in recent memory.

The Astros won 21-1. After a scoreless first, a two-out error in the second led to Houston’s first two runs. A pitch later, Jake Marisnick homered to make it 4-0; the ‘Stros then rallied for nine runs in the third to put it out of reach early. The lineup rapped out 22 hits, including a franchise-record 10 doubles, while batting around twice. They accomplished all of that without Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, or Yuli Gurriel; Alex Bregman and José Altuve also left the game early.

For the Mariners, matters weren’t any better at the plate. Cole struck out 15 hitters in eight innings, and Chris Devenski fanned two more in a spotless ninth inning of work. If anything, the Mariners looked even more feeble than the numbers bear out. Not surprisingly, a lineup featuring Keon Broxton, Tim Lopes, and Braden Bishop appeared completely overmatched against Cole, who garnered 24 swinging strikes in 96 pitches.

Everywhere you turn, Houston dominated. The Astros hit 14 balls over 100 mph; Seattle hit just one, and had only two balls leave the bat in excess of 95 mph. Of the 20 hardest hit balls of the day, Houston spanked 19 of them.

Whether this constitutes the most spectacular blowout of all time is a matter of perspective. Texas’s 30-3 mauling of the Orioles back in 2007 is modern baseball’s largest margin of victory and the scoreline resonates for the obvious reason. Two teams have won 22-0, the largest shutouts of all time. For sheer lack of drama, it’s hard to top Brooklyn’s 19-1 win over Cincinnati in 1952, when the Dodgers plated 15 runs in the first (legend has it that starter Ewell Blackwell and his reliever, Bud Byerly, listened to the end of the inning together in a bar across the street).

Of course, any team can lose spectacularly or run into a great pitcher with his best stuff. One-hitters, 17-strikeout games, and 20-run margins of victory are all unusual, but not history-making events. Together though, the combination is unprecedented.

Per Baseball Reference’s incomparable Play Index, there have been 187 games where a team struck out at least 17 hitters in nine innings or fewer. They’ve become more frequent in recent years — this population of games has a few doozies in it, including Toronto’s BABIP nightmare from earlier this season, when the Jays struck out 17 but allowed 16 hits and lost 10-9 to Tampa Bay — but are still relatively uncommon. In 11 of those games, the opposing team managed one hit or fewer. Prior to Sunday, the largest margin of victory in those games was six, when Nolan Ryan no-hit the Tigers 6-0 in 1973. One imagines that the new record will last for quite a while. Simply put, we’ve just never seen this level of dominance on both sides of the ball in a big league game at the same time.

Seattle’s lone hit bears a special mention as well. With one out in the top of the fourth, Shed Long lined an elevated fastball down the left field line and just over the yellow line into the first rows of the Crawford Boxes. It didn’t really look like a homer in real time; based on his reaction, Long seemed to think it was a foul ball initially. The ball left the bat at 95.2 mph, and per Statcast, Minute Maid Park is the only stadium in baseball where it could have cleared the fence.

Would it have been an out elsewhere? Perhaps. There’s not much reason for a left fielder to play Long all that deep, or particularly close to the line, where his homer landed. But Statcast estimates the hit probability on Long’s drive was just .250. As it is, it’s quite possible that a juiced ball creeping into the shortest part of the Crawford Boxes was the only thing separating Houston from a 21-0 victory and a perfect game to boot.

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Spitball McPhee
4 years ago

then 15-0 the A’s the following day

4 years ago

And, unlike the Mariners, the A’s are legit good.

4 years ago

The Orioles are 2-4 against the Astros, and two of the losses were by 1 run.

4 years ago

I guess the A’s read this article and were pissed. Currently up 17-2, heading to the bottom of the 4th.