This Plate Appearance Has 22 Pitches

I invite you to look at the image below. Please, go ahead.

Luis Guillorme swings at Jordan Hicks' tenth pitch.

That’s Jordan Hicks on the mound — you know, “strike one at 104” Jordan Hicks. At the plate is Mets utilityman Luis Guillorme. Hicks, on Sunday, was making his first appearance on the mound since undergoing Tommy John surgery in mid-2019. Guillorme played an extremely solid 30 games for the Mets in 2020 and is 5-for-15 this spring.

What is happening in this picture? Look at Guillorme’s feet — his right ankle rolled, his left heel lifting off the ground, his arms flinging the bat desperately through the air. Yadier Molina extends his arm, holding his glove in place. Look at the scorebug — the 1-2 count. This could very well have been a picture of Hicks striking out Guillorme.

Except it wasn’t. Guillorme got his bat on it, somehow — not the heat Hicks is best known for, but a slider at 86 — launching the ball somewhere into the leftward distance. It was the 10th pitch of the plate appearance, the eighth he’d seen with two strikes. Molina and the umpire watched it sail away. Hicks’ next pitch, at 99, nearly took Guillorme’s head off. The count was now even, and the plate appearance was still only halfway done.

The longest plate appearance in recorded major-league history was Brandon Belt’s 21-pitch battle with Jaime Barria in 2018. Belt, down 1-2 after three pitches, fouled off 16 pitches and worked the count full before flying out to right to end the at-bat — which, really, was almost the most unsatisfying finish possible for such an extended confrontation, a whimper instead of the bang of a true outcome, a base hit, or a bang-bang play on the infield.

Guillorme v. Hicks 2021, though it didn’t start out looking like it was going to be one of the longest plate appearances anyone has ever seen, began with heat. Hicks’ first pitch was a sinker that just grazed 100 — Guillorme just watched it go by, powerless to stop it. The second pitch, a slider, took a full 10 mph off the first, and Guillorme swung at it, a helpless, off-balance arc of a swing, for strike two. A foregone conclusion, almost, that this plate appearance would end soon.

If you look at Guillorme’s swing-and-miss on that second pitch, you can see the uncertainty. Hicks came back with another sinker at 99, and again, Guillorme was off-center. But this time, he didn’t swing over it. This time, though his body was still contorting itself with desperation, he was able to just touch it, just get enough of it. So Hicks returned with a slider. And Guillorme, once again, just got enough.

Like Belt before him, Guillorme fouled off 16 pitches — though, unlike Belt, he was several times staring down pitches coming at him in the triple digits. Guillorme, of course, is no stranger to the mound himself; he has also been known as an able handler of hurtling projectiles. But had he ever done anything like this before? There were moments when it seemed like the balance had shifted definitively one way or another. When, with the count at 2-2, Guillorme flipped the ball down the left-field line and ran out of the box, as though the mere breaking of the pattern of swing-and-foul might will it to at last go fair. Or when a 101-mph heater seemed to miss Guillorme’s bat, hitting Molina’s glove with a heavy thwack — only to squeak out, tipped and not caught, to continue to the plate appearance. The Mets who waited in the dugout grew more delighted with each passing moment, their cheers and taunts spilling out onto the field. The potential energy accrued, even as the action was largely the same. The pitch — the instant between — and then the connection, off-balance and unconvincing, but there, just barely made. A breath, and then regroup. Everything fades into everything else.

A foul ball from Luis Guillorme blurs into footage of his next plate appearance.

Baseball is a game of repetition and disruption. Both are built-in. Sometimes, the form the disruption takes is surprising. And sometimes the repetition itself becomes disruptive. Pauses in the action are not only for the benefit of the viewer, but for the players — so that there is a chance within these sets of repetitions to reset. When the same outcome keeps happening, though, there is no choice but to go back and do it again, and again, and again, each time knowing that the next might be the last; each time knowing, still, that if the next time were the last time, you would not want to emerge as the loser — whatever that means in a spring training plate appearance, where the score is kept and recorded, but not counted. And knowing, even though it’s not true, that somewhere in the universe’s infinite possibility there is a chance you have to keep doing this for even longer — for an hour, maybe, or several, or even days, whatever days mean anymore. Unbroken by the usual diversions, the time ahead of you blurs together into a shapeless mass.

The solution, when the repetition becomes disruptive, is not to think about all that: the future, or even the past, even though to situate yourself in a history of which you are currently in the middle is a natural human impulse. You have to break it down to the barest essentials. The moment ahead of you, the body that you inhabit right now, in this moment and in none other. The breath that you take in and out, and the information your eyes give you, and then you strain, strain to keep even a little bit of balance. Because it only takes a little to get you through to the next moment, no matter how ugly it might look — the moment when you do it all again, or the moment, maybe, finally, when you get to do something different.

Luis Guillorme won, in the end. The 22nd pitch was ball four, bounced in the dirt by his feet, and he tossed his bat, elated. His teammates went wild. The cardboard cutouts behind him stared impassively, as they have done for every plate appearance before this and will continue to do until they no longer exist, as Guillorme, triumphant, took his walk to first — out of the box, at least for now.

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

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
3 years ago

That headline could only have been written by a Canadian. Or someone who was inexplicably drawn to CBC comedy in the early aughts. Looking forward to a Four on the Floor reference in the future.

Brian Reinhartmember
3 years ago
Reply to  coffeedrinker

(Rick Mercer voice)
I think that went well.

3 years ago
Reply to  coffeedrinker

Tim Holt to the rescue.

3 years ago
Reply to  coffeedrinker

I came here to say the same thing. Well done, folks!

Curacao LL
3 years ago
Reply to  jacksontaigu

God I’m so old I remember the show ’22 minutes’ ripped its title from…