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.
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.
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