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David K. Israel
6 Epic At-Bats
by David K. Israel - July 26, 2010 - 8:10 AM

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.

Comments (23)
  1. just an fyi, im pretty sure the picture used for Ricky Gutierrez is actually Derek Bell.

  2. When I saw the article title, I immediately thought of dave Bergman, who played for the Tigers and an at bat he had against Toronto. To wit:

    On June 4, 1984, Bergman came to bat in the 11th inning with two men on base and two outs in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Bergman fouled off seven pitches, and on a full count hit the 13th pitch of the at bat into the upper deck at Tiger Stadium for a walk-off, three-run home run. In his book, Bless You Boys, Detroit manager, Sparky Anderson, wrote, “Tonight I saw the greatest at bat in my life…Bergie fouled off seven pitches and then picked one practically off the ground and drilled it into the upper deck in right. What a battle! Bergie was up there a full seven minutes.”

  3. I seem to recall that Marty Barrett of the Red Sox had a real long at-bat against, I think, Tom Henke of the Blue Jays, and ended up hitting an important double or something. In my memory, this was in 1989, in the game where the Jays came back from being down 10-0, although I could be conflating two games here.

  4. That pic is not Ricky Gutierrez, it’s Derek Bell

  5. Brings to mind the piece of study done by Bill James, or one of his guys, published in an old Abstract. Seems that the longer you stretch the at bat, the more likely you are that it will end favorably for you. On Base Percentages of the batters involved went down for the first three or four fouls, but for every pitch fouled off beyond that, the batters’ OBP rose. So get in there and keep hacking!

  6. I’m glad the Brett Myers at-bat made the list. It was only 9 pitches, but it was an important situation. The crowd reaction is amazing.

  7. LOVED the Brett Myers at-bat (though never liked him personally), and have always been a big Richie Ashburn (RIP, Whitey!) fan. Great to see my beloved Phils finally get some recognition!

  8. @Sam, that’s what I thought, but in these cases, only Cora homored! The others either walked or made outs. Oh, and I got a better pic in there. Thanks all!

  9. I’m not sure if that is Ricky Gutierrez or not, but I would bet anything that it is not Derek Bell. Derek was lighter skinned and always had a thick goatee and he was uglier. (no offense to Derek)

  10. Didn’t Tony Perez have an at bat that lasted 24 hours? They called a rain delay in the middle of the at bat, then picked up the next day with him still at the plate.

  11. I can’t find the link this very moment, but Corie Koskie had a fantastic 13-pitch at bat back around 2000 or 2001, where he hit TWO foul balls to his own cousin (brother maybe?) in the stands. I’ll try to find a reference to it.

  12. Way back when Ronald Reagan was a radio sportcaster in the 1930′s, he was calling a game by wire (not at the game but just reading the play by play as it came in) when his link went dead. He began in great detail to describe a made up duel between the pitcher and batter until the link came back on. He didn’t remember how many foul balls he’d had the batter hit, but when the link did come back on he found out that the batter had flyed out on the very next pitch he’d received. For years latter on Reagan was approached by folks who remembered his call of the great duel that had never happened, and would ask if that had been a record for consectutive foul balls.

  13. Didn’t Bip Roberts once stay in the box for almost 20 minutes or am I imagining that?

  14. Allowing walks DOES break up a perfect game, in fact. That’s the difference between a perfect game and a no-hitter. If no one reaches base, it’s perfect.

  15. One more reason I hate spell-check.

    “On May 12, 2004, the Dodgers’ Alex Cora won the dual…” While “dual” is a valid English word, in this instance shouldn’t the correct word be “duel”?

    I know, I’m nitpicking, but we are supposed to all be knowledge junkies here anyway.

    -”BB”-

  16. Hey Allison — David’s saying that THIS walk didn’t break up a perfect game, because a walk in the third inning already ruined perfection.

  17. I know it’s not a record, but I distinctly remember a member of the Reds–I think it was catcher Dann Bilardello, but I could be wrong–had a fairly long AB in St. Louis in which he fouled off quite a few balls. After the game, he said he felt so bad about hitting so many balls into the stands that he sent the Cardinals a check to cover the cost of the balls!

  18. I remember an interesting duel from a July 4th game in the early 90s. Kirby Puckett was the batter. The at-bat went some 9 pitches with 2 men on, and Puckett was gradually straightening out the foul balls. Realizing the danger, the opposing manager changed pitchers DURING THE AT BAT! After a few more fouls, Puckett hit a home run.

  19. The Gutierrez pic looks nothing like Derek Bell.

  20. Neither of Appling’s plate appearances cited were at bats, since he walked in both. And the Ruffing story is wrong. He pitched 4 times against the White Sox that year, throwing 3 complete games and in the other he didn’t walk anyone. Maybe a different year.

  21. Babe Ruth points to center field 5th inning game three of the World Series in 1932. On the following pitch he hits a home run.

  22. I watch that game w/Dave Bergman. Remember getting up and making a sandwich before I saw Bergman ‘golf’ a home run. Remember the photo in the newspaper the next day of the hit. The ball was literally only 6″ off the ground.

  23. How did the Appling plate appearance go 15 (or 11) pitches with only four foul balls with two strikes? Getting to a full count is five pitches, plus four foul balls is nine, plus ball four is ten pitches total.

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