Yu Darvish’s Night at the Plate

We are currently in the 20th year of regular-season interleague play. I’m not sure exactly how many repetitions it takes for an event to transition from exciting novelty to mundane part of the schedule, but somewhere along the way interleague play has done just that. We now accept that this is a world where things as bizarre as Marlins/Mariners series will occur from time to time because it’s become a part of the routine. However, on occasion something happens to remind us why interleague play has any value. It doesn’t happen often, but it did happen last night, when interleague play set the stage for Yu Darvish to step to the plate and hit the first home run of his professional career.

It wasn’t the first home run hit by an American League pitcher this season — that honor belongs to Anthony Ranaudo — but, with all due respect to Ranaudo, it was the first by a pitcher of Darvish’s caliber in a long time. Since the debut of interleague play in 1997, there have been 21 American League pitcher home runs, from Bobby Witt’s on 6/30/97 to Darvish’s last night. As you would expect, the number of top-tier pitchers on that list after Darvish is small: Mark Buehrle, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett (twice), and CC Sabathia (twice). You can include post-peak Doc Gooden if you’re so inclined, and then, of course, there’s Felix Hernandez, who hit that beautiful grand slam off Johan Santana at Shea Stadium back in 2008.

It’s such a rare feat that there are still four American League teams – Oakland, Los Angeles, New York, and Minnesota — which have yet to record their first pitcher home run in the DH era. Given that rarity and the particular absurdity of how it all played out last night, it’s worth taking a look at Darvish’s night at the plate.

Darvish’s first at-bat of the night came in the second inning with a runner on first and one out against Reds starting pitcher Tim Adleman. What does a pitcher do with a runner on first and one out? He bunts. Or at least he tries to bunt. I implore you to watch what happened when Darvish stepped to the plate in this bunt situation while keeping in the back of your mind the fact that Darvish would hit a home run later in the game.

 

Look at that form. Darvish has pitched from a mound and watched real-live professional baseball players try to bunt off him and, somehow, he thinks this is what bunting looks like? As the pitch is being delivered he throws his right foot so far back that it’s nearly out of the batter’s box altogether. It’s as if he’s either trying to pounce on the baseball with his bat or he spent too much time watching Olympic runners take their marks last week. Whatever his thought process, it was abundantly clear from the get-go that having Darvish bunt was not a viable plan. He squared up to bunt one more time only to take the pitch just wide for a ball and then, mercifully, the bunt was called off on the next pitch.

Which brings us to his first swing of the game. Once again, it’s imperative that you remember this man is going to hit a home run later in this game.

Well, that sure is a swing. At least he somehow managed to just barely keep his helmet on his head despite that massive hack at a high fastball. On the next pitch, Darvish finally got a fastball down in the zone where he could handle it and, well, this happened:

Oh right, that’s why pitchers bunt with a runner on and one out. Darvish rolled over a fastball down the middle of the plate for a perfectly mundane around-the-horn double play. This at-bat brought Darvish’s career batting line to 2-for-13 and, although one of those two hits was a double, it was next-to-impossible to consider him to be a real threat at the plate in any way after he looked so thoroughly out of place in that first at-bat.

The next time he came up, Adleman threw him another fastball over the middle and Darvish took it for a called strike. Adleman then went with two curveballs and, again, Darvish didn’t offer, instead opting to take the first one for strike two and watch the other one miss low for a ball. With the count 1-2, another fastball came Darvish’s way and then the magic happened:

That is a very strong man taking a very big cut on a fastball right down the middle and giving a baseball-loving country or two something to smile about. I wonder, what did Darvish’s teammates think about his unlikely accomplishment? Let’s take a look:

When taking a step back and really thinking about how modern baseball functions, it never fails to be completely and utterly ridiculous that the National League and American League play under a different set of rules. It’s quirky and absurd and, for me at least, it can be incredibly frustrating. It creates a distracting imbalance in regular-season interleague play and an even more bizarre imbalance in the World Series. But then you look at that joy in the dugout after Darvish went yard and it’s hard not to think that a rule which can give us a moment like that can’t be all bad.





Corinne Landrey writes for FanGraphs and MLB.com's Cut4 site. Follow her on Twitter @crashlandrey.

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Terencemember
7 years ago

I know it is not exactly the parameters you set out, but I don’t think the Astros have had a pitcher hit a HR since joining the AL