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6 Epic At-Bats

Major League batters see, on average, about four pitches per at-bat. So something like an 8-pitch at-bat is considered pretty long. If nothing else, these types of at-bats help to run the pitch-count up, and getting the starting pitcher out of the game is always on the opposing team's mind.

But what about the endless at-bat—the ones that stop the game in its track? While detailed baseball stats have been kept practically since the game was born, the number of pitches a batter faces per at-bat were never considered important enough until fairly recently (mid "˜80s), when pitch-counts became all the rage. So in some cases, we are dealing with legends here. But still, these six epic plate appearances are worth considering:

1. Alex Cora's 18-Pitch At-Bat

On May 12, 2004, the Dodgers' Alex Cora won the duel against Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Matt Clement after an epic,18-pitch at-bat. Clement, who had thrown 86 pitches before Cora stepped in, emptied his tank on Cora, who got the pitch-count up to 104. But that's not all Cora did. Facing a 2"“1 count, Cora fouled off 14 straight pitches before finally hitting"¦. a home run, of all things. I say "of all things" because in 13 seasons of Major League ball, the guy has only knocked 35 homers, period. Cora's AB is the third longest documented at-bat since baseball statisticians began keeping track of pitch counts in the mid-1980s.

2. Luke Appling's Two 1940 ABs

What makes Hall-of-Famer Luke Appling's 1940 at-bat so epic is that with two outs in the 9th, as Bob Feller was trying to close out the first (and only) opening day no-hitter, Appling fought through a whopping 15-pitches (11, according to some accounts), fouling off four with two strikes on him before finally walking, which put the tying run on base. The walk did not, however, break up a perfect game for Feller, as he'd allowed another walk already in the 3rd. But you can imagine the tension in the stadium as the game was winding down. This wasn't Appling's only epic at-bat, either. According to Baseball Digest, in another game during the 1940 season, the White Sox great fouled off 24 pitches in one trip to the plate, befuddling the Yankees Red Ruffing. Though there is no hard proof for this that I could find, there is this quote from the Baseball Digest story: "So I started fouling off his pitches," Appling said"¦ "I took a pitch every now and then. Pretty soon, after 24 fouls, old Red could hardly lift his arm and I walked. That's when they took him out of the game and he cussed me all the way to the dugout."

3. Richie Ashburn's 17 Foul Balls

Another Hall-of-Famer, Richie Ashburn, the great center fielder for the Phillies from 1948-59, and one of the game's best leadoff hitters, once said he fouled off 17 straight pitches in one at-bat before hitting a single. Again, there's no written proof of this that I could find. Unlike that amazing Ashburn story dating back to the '57 season when old Whitey hit a spectator with a foul ball in the stands. The spectator, named Alice Roth, broke her nose and was carted off on a stretcher. As she was being taken away, Whitey hit her again with another foul ball!

4. Brett Myers' 9-Pitch At-Bat Against CC Sabathia

While on the Phillies, who can forget pitcher Bretty Myers drawing a walk in the 2008 NL Division Series against the Brewers' CC Sabathia?! Myers, who only had 3 hits all season, came to the plate with two outs. After two quick strikes, Sabathia looked to be on his way to an easy K. But Myers took a ball, fouled one off, and took another ball. At this point, the capacity crowd at Citizen Bank Park in Philly got into CC's head and after a few more fouls, he wound up walking Myers, which put the crowd over the edge. CC was clearly rattled. He then walked Rollins and finally gave up a grand slam to Shane Victorino, helping the Phillies win the game and go up in the 5-game series 2-0.

5. Kevin Bass' 19-Pitch At-Bat

Here's another one involving the Phillies, only this time they were pitching. The year was 1988 and Kevin Bass from the Astros was at the plate facing Steve Bedrosian. The game was knotted at six with two outs in the eighth. At one point during the AB, Bass fouled off 11 straight before flying out to left. But that's more consecutive pitches fouled off than 99.8881% of batters see in their entire plate appearance. (Bedrosian faced just 10 batters and threw just 52 pitches total in this relief appearance, 19 of them to Bass!)

6. Ricky Gutierrez Sets Modern-Day Record

And while talking about the Stros, ahead of Cora and Bass, at least since the stats have been kept, we find Ricky Gutierrez's remarkable 20-pitch affair with Bartolo Colon of the Indians back in June 1998. The Indians were beating the Astros 4-2 in the eighth inning with none out in Cleveland when Gutierrez stepped to the plate. He quickly fell behind in the count 0-2. But it would take a staggering 18 more pitches for Colon to strike Gutierrez out. It took 13 pitches just to make it to a full count! This single plate appearance represents 18% of all the pitches Colon threw that day. For those really interested, below you can see the AB, pitch by pitch.

Strike 0-1
Strike 0-2
Foul 0-2
Ball 1-2
Foul 1-2
Ball 2-2
Foul 2-2
Foul 2-2
Foul 2-2
Foul 2-2
Foul 2-2
Foul 2-2
Ball 3-2
Foul 3-2
Foul 3-2
Foul 3-2
Foul 3-2
Foul 3-2
Foul 3-2
Strike Strikeout

I'm sure I left some epic plate appearances off the list. So why don't you hit me up with your favorites that belong in this Epic category by leaving a comment below.

If you liked this post, keep on top of all my writing via my Twitter account, @resila.

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entertainment
Impossible Figure Skating Moves from the Movies
Paramount Home Video
Paramount Home Video

Figure skating is always one of the most anticipated events during the Winter Olympics. But in Hollywood, filmmakers have taken a few liberties on the ice, namely when it comes to some of the technical elements. And the judges are not impressed. Here are a couple of skating moves that could never have been completed without a bit of movie magic.

THE CUTTING EDGE

It's a climactic moment near the end of the 1992 movie, The Cutting Edge, when figure skater Kate Moseley (played by actress Moira Kelly) turns to her pairs partner Doug Dorsey (D.B. Sweeney) just before they are to take the ice at the Olympics and excitedly declares, “We're doing the Pamchenko!”

Frantic, Doug tries to talk her out of it. “Forget it. It's too dangerous,” he yells over the sound of the cheering crowd at the skating arena.

They argue right up to the very moment their music starts on the ice about whether to attempt the controversial “Pamchenko twist,” a highly difficult and dangerous maneuver their coach invented that, if completed during their skate, would mean an instant gold medal. Long story short (spoiler), they execute the move flawlessly and the movie ends with no doubt that they've won Olympic gold.

It's a triumphant ending. But let's just say there's a very good reason the filmmakers used a series of cuts to create the illusion that they actually did the move. The truth is, the Pamchenko twist is impossible.

Earlier in the film, coach Anton Pamchenko (Roy Dotrice) tosses a bunch of weathered looking diagrams onto the ice during a practice that detail a highly dangerous pairs move he has been inventing for the last 20 years.

Intrigued, Doug takes a look. “A bounce spin into a throw twist ... and I catch her?”

The Pamchenko twist does have a basis in reality. It is composed of two parts, as Doug deftly put it. The first part is a “bounce spin,” which is a real move that is actually illegal in competition, per International Skating Union rules. It's often performed in exhibitions and shows because it is quite a death-defying crowd-pleaser—the man grabs the woman by her feet and swings her up and down as he rotates. The woman's head typically comes mere inches from smashing on the ice if it is done correctly. If done incorrectly ... well, just try not to think about that.

The second part is a “throw twist,” more commonly known as a “split twist.” This is a required technical element in high-level pairs competition. To get full credit, a man and woman must start skating backward together. The male partner typically launches the female above his head, where she splits her legs and twists in midair as she pulls them back together. The man catches her as she comes down. Elite-level pairs teams regularly complete triple-twists (the woman does three rotations in the air). Two-time Olympic champions Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov completed a textbook split triple-twist in their long program in the 1988 Olympics—the first technical element in this video.

Now, put the bounce spin together with the throw twist. The physics just don't compute. The centrifugal force built up during the bounce spin would launch the woman—assuming she is released at the highest point of the bounce spin—on a parabolic trajectory. In theory, she could use the momentum to twist in the air, but it's highly unlikely that she would be thrown high enough to pull it off without getting her head smashed onto the ice during the bounce spin. And even if she did, the horizontal trajectory would launch her so far away from her partner that there's no realistic way he could have enough time to stop his own momentum from the spinning and traverse the distance to catch her.

Pamchenko says in the film that it's all about the timing. But frankly, it's not worth risking the horrifying injuries that would inevitably result to test his theory. There are plenty of other legal and physically possible moves pairs skaters can spend their time and energy perfecting.

BLADES OF GLORY

In Blades of Glory, Will Ferrell and Jon Heder play two champion singles skaters who are banned from men's competition for life after an unseemly incident at a competition. Desperate to get back on the ice, they team up as a pair. In order to stand a chance of beating reigning pairs champions Stronz and Fairchild (Amy Poehler and Will Arnett), they attempt a highly dangerous and difficult maneuver called the Iron Lotus—which has only ever been attempted in North Korea with comically disastrous results.

If the Pamchenko twist is impossible, the Iron Lotus is downright laughable—which is the point, of course. It starts out the same way, with a bounce spin. However, at the height of the bounce, the male skater launches the female into a back flip instead of a twist. While she's flipping, he does an Arabian cartwheel underneath her. Once completed, he catches her by the arm and leg, and the pair gracefully rotate out of it together.

“I swear to God, if you cut my head off,” Chazz Michael Michaels (Ferrell) warns his partner, Jimmy MacElroy (Heder), before they attempt it in the final performance of the film. As they launch into it, their coach (Craig T. Nelson) screams, “No! Don't do it! I was wrong, it's suicide!”

But wordlessly, magically, they nail it. Or rather, computer-animated stunt doubles nail it, because it's physically impossible. It would require the “female” skater to reverse her momentum in mid-air to transition from the bounce spin into the back flip. Maybe it's possible on the moon, where gravity isn't so much of a factor.

So what have we learned from this little figure skating physics lesson? You won't be seeing any Pamchenko twists or Iron Lotuses in Pyeongchang. And don't try any of this at home.

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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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