Honestly, June 22 was a pretty boring day to be watching baseball.
There was only one game between teams that both had winning records. Only two games were decided by two or fewer runs, and only one saw the potential tying run bat in the ninth inning. There were no memorably dominant pitching performances, no incredible comebacks, nobody chasing four homers in a game or a 40-game hitting streak, no extra innings, no phenoms making their debut, no Clayton Kershaw, no Mike Trout, no walk-offs, no triple plays, no leaping catches to rob home runs, no brawls. It was, it turned out, the perfect day for our experiment.
Every time you go to the park, it goes, you've got a chance to see something you've never seen before. But I've seen a lot of baseball. I figure I've seen around 4,000 games in my life, almost a million minutes of baseball. Many of us have. We're immune to clichés, for we are clichés.
So the plan was to pick a day, watch every game that day and see whether baseball truly and reliably has something new to offer in every game. With the help of a few dozen geographically scattered friends, all on the lookout for the extreme and unusual, I turned on the Phillies and Cardinals at 1:05 p.m. ET on June 22, and I settled in for 12 baseball games.
And, honestly, June 22 was a danged interesting day to be watching baseball.
1. Indians vs. Orioles: Pain you haven't seen before
Let's figure out what we're talking about here. Obviously, in a literal sense, we see something we've never seen before in every game. Baseball is not Tic-Tac-Toe, and the nearly infinite potential sequences make every game "new" by about the fifth batter. Is it "new" that, in the Rockies-Diamondbacks game, Antonio Senzatela had the first 5/8/9/9/3/3 pitching line in baseball history? Technically, sure, and in plenty of cases a "new" pitching line can be fascinating. But the fan watching was surely unaware of Senzatela making history, and the unprecedentedness of his pitching line was not matched by anything unprecedented about his pitching, generally. (If he'd allowed one extra hit, or one fewer hit, his pitching line would have been an exact repeat of at least one previous pitching performance, yet nothing else would have been notable about the change.)
No, the newnesses we choose will not be arbitrary, numbers taken out to a far enough digit, but something visible to the naked eye. The newness should be something we can feel deep in our gut.
For instance: Craig Gentry squaring up for a bunt and taking a fastball directly into his stomach.
(Should have been called a strike.)
One of baseball's great varieties is its pain. There are always new ways of being in pain in baseball. I have seen a player bunt a ball into directly into the flap of his helmet, and I have seen a batter take a barely deflected pitch to the torso. But I believe this is the first time I've seen the pain of a completely undeflected Cannonball Homer:
2. Blue Jays vs. Rangers: Homers you've never seen before
"When he's feeling it he'll let you know," Rangers broadcaster Dave Raymond says as Gomez bats in the second inning. "Like today -- walk in the clubhouse, he turned, he looked at the lineup card, he stood and he started, got a big smile on his face, and he says: 'I got a feeling I'm going yard today.' He said, 'Look at that lineup. I see a little crown rising above my name.' I have no idea what that means. And then he flexed ... and left. He's the best!"
It's odd how rarely we see shots called in baseball. Every kid standing in a backyard batter's box with a bat -- whiffle ball bat, foam bat, imaginary bat, doesn't matter -- will inevitably straighten up and boldly point out to where the next pitch is going to be hit. When, as children, we foreshadow our Hall of Fame careers, we emphasize the dramatics as much as the dingers; a home run that isn't predicted, admired, bat-flipped and slow-trotted is barely a home run at all.
Then we get old, and we get cautious. Even Babe Ruth's called shot, one of the most iconic moments in baseball history, was an ambiguous, half-arm motion, at best a vague threat weighed down by plausible deniability. I get it -- baseball is hard and an undelivered boast is embarrassing -- but it's a little sad, too.
Carlos Gomez came up the next at-bat and homered. He made Dave Raymond very happy:
Then he homered again later in the game.
3. Cardinals vs. Phillies: Practical Taoism you've never seen before
"Once upon a time, there was a Chinese farmer who lost a horse. Ran away. And all the neighbors came 'round that evening and said, 'That's too bad.' And he said, 'Maybe.'
"The next day, the horse came back and brought seven wild horses with it. And all the neighbors came around and said, 'Why, that's great, isn't it?' And he said, 'Maybe.'
"The next day his son was attempting to tame one of these horses and was riding it and was thrown and broke his leg. And all the neighbors came 'round in the evening and said, 'Well, that's too bad, isn't it?' The farmer said ... "
I've actually seen a play like this one before -- in fact, as I recall it was in the very first game I ever went to, back in 1986. A batter popped up, the second baseman muffed the routine catch, the runner had never slowed up, and he found himself halfway between first and second, a dead duck. I've never stopped being fascinated by that play, or now this one either.
There are two premises that Jedd Gyorko is simultaneously following as the ball is in the air here: The first is that the ball might be dropped, so he should do whatever will help him score a run for his team should the inning somehow continue. The second is that the ball will certainly be caught, and there is no reason to spend any effort worrying about what will happen and where he'll be if it does. What's interesting is that if you follow either premise, you should stop at second base and just wait there: To avoid being thrown out at third if the ball is dropped, and to avoid wasting even the slightest bit of effort if it isn't. And yet, by believing both at the same time -- against all logic, since both premises can't possibly be true -- the runner chooses a different act altogether.
4. Cubs vs. Marlins: Batted-ball luck you've never seen before
Marlins reliever Vance Worley has a 7.59 ERA this year. His FIP -- an ERA predictor that looks only at those outcomes (strikeouts, walks and home runs) that a pitcher most directly controls -- is 3.98. How does such a discrepancy between two pitching measures occur?
Consider this seven-batter sequence:
After the inning's leadoff hitter strikes out, Anthony Rizzo pops a ball down the left-field line. Based on launch angle and exit velocity, balls hit like that fall for hits 3 percent of the time. Rizzo's does.
Kris Bryant grounds weakly to the left side of the infield. Based on launch angle and exit velocity, grounders like that are hits 12 percent of the time. Bryant's is.
Willson Contreras pops out to the second baseman.
Addison Russell hits a soft grounder down the first-base line. Based on launch angle and exit velocity, grounders like that are hits 8 percent of the time. Russell gets a double.
Ian Happ hits a fly ball to right field. Based on launch angle and exit velocity, balls like that are hits 12 percent of the time. Worley's right fielder gets spun around, and Happ gets a double.
Albert Almora pops out to first base.
Based on exit velocities and launch angles, Worley "should" have thrown two innings and allowed maybe -- maybe, if he's a little unlucky -- one baserunner. There'd be a 70 percent chance he retired all seven batters in order. Instead he allowed three runs, all earned. (All expectancies via MLB.com's Statcast.)
5. Mets vs. Dodgers: Baseballs meeting spectators in ways you've never seen before
In the Phillies-Cardinals game, we have a Freddy Galvis home run. A man holding a child against his side like a 50-pound bag of mulch stretches upward to almost make an exceptional play, but the ball bounces off his glove, then off his shoulder, then -- after the man fails to complete the circus catch -- to another fan. The child, meanwhile, has been jerked back and forth against the effort; 35 years later, he'll be unable to explain his chronic neck pain, but we will be.
That's not our thing we've never seen before, though. Maybe with better replays and a completed catch it would have been, but it's not.
There's the usher who gets hit in the back of the head by a Khris Davis foul ball.
— Tyler Wise (@TWise715) June 22, 2017
I've never seen that before, but I've seen other people hit by foul balls, so we'll just acknowledge that this one's a bummer and move on.
There's the discombobulated ball boy, who gets jeered by the Astros' bullpen after a small error and gets progressively clumsier:
don't ever be on tv https://t.co/BENOp5YGrL
— Sam Miller (@SamMillerBB) June 23, 2017
There's the kid who makes a great catch and gets mobbed by about eight friends; this kid should retroactively declare this game his bachelor party, because he'll never have so much fun with his boys ever again:
All of these arguably could qualify as something you've never seen before, but for this entry we're going back to the dads-holding-kids genre, because this is the first time we've seen a foul ball that will later be used in a custody hearing:
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) June 23, 2017
6. White Sox vs. Twins: Fish out of water you've never seen before
The novelty of a position player pitching in a blowout is gone. As Jeff Sullivan has written, "Baseball right now finds itself within a number of eras, but among them, this is the era of position players pitching." There was a dramatic spike in such outings in 2014, followed by record frequency in 2015. The 2016 rate was nearly as high, and this season is on pace to top them all, though September -- with expanded rosters -- will thwart that pace somewhat.
But Chris Gimenez is something new, because Gimenez has now made six appearances this year for the Twins. Gimenez is a catcher. He is not, like Christian Bethancourt is or Brooks Kieschnick was, a "hybrid" player. He's not trying to be a position player who also pitches. He just keeps being asked to pitch. That has forced something totally new: a position player who is actually learning to pitch, unwittingly, on the fly, with no actual pitching abilities to build on.
If you were put on the mound in the majors, you'd most likely try to do what every pitcher does: throw it as hard as you can. So what if you can't throw hard; the "as you can" part is the key. But this is a bad strategy. You will get hit and exhausted and maybe hurt.
Gimenez has said he doesn't try to throw his hardest. "I just try to locate about 68 to 79 mph and go from there. Let them supply the power," he said in April.
In this, his sixth appearance -- trailing 9-0 in the ninth inning -- Gimenez took that idea to its extreme: He threw in the low 60s. The Twins' announcers said he had been working on a knuckleball, and they theorized that this is what he was throwing, and this is even what PITCHf/x classified many of these pitches as. But Dan Rozenson, a research assistant with the consulting company Pitch Info, is an expert in both PITCHf/x and position players pitching, and he told me after reviewing the outing that those "knuckleballs" were actually misclassified.
"He's just lobbing pitches in there with a four-seam grip," Rozenson said. "I've seen a lot of position-player pitchers, and Gimenez might be the most boring of all. He takes the 'just throw catch' mantra to an absurd level, just lobbing 65 mph fastballs over and over again with a low-effort delivery. It probably makes him the most reliable guy to go to over and over again because there's comparatively little risk of injury with no breaking balls and not trying to throw hard. A lot of position-player pitcher appearances are for entertainment value in addition to the functional value. Not so with Gimenez."
Gimenez can throw harder. He threw one pitch 85.4 mph in this outing. That pitch got lashed for a line-drive single. His other 11 pitches on June 22 all were clocked in the 60s, including four that were slow enough -- 62 mph -- that they'd be considered eephi if thrown by anybody else. This extreme lack of effort worked, as he threw nine strikes, got out of the inning without allowing a run and probably did some small bit to avoid the risk that all regular pitchers (which Gimenez arguably now is) face: He's unlikely to need to see Dr. James Andrews.
He lowered his ERA to 7.20, lower than the ERAs of Ubaldo Jimenez, Bartolo Colon, Francisco Rodriguez and 62 other major leaguers who have thrown more innings than Gimenez has this year. He could theoretically take this strategy even further: The slowest you could throw a pitch and make it to home plate, Astros director of research and development Mike Fast has written, is 27 mph.
7. Angels vs. Yankees: An argument you've never seen before
After Dellin Betances threw a terribly wild pitch to the screen, his manager, Joe Girardi, came out for a medical visit. He didn't bring any medical personnel, so Angels manager Mike Scioscia argued that it should count as an "official" visit, and that if Girardi went out again that inning he should have to pull Betances.
The argument lasted a minute and 20 seconds, in three separate stages with two different members of the umpiring crew. I have seen an argument about whether a manager had "visited" a pitcher -- Bruce Bochy forced a pitching change once when Don Mattingly turned back to the pitcher to say one last thing. But this was different, because if Scioscia "won" the argument nothing would change. There was virtually no chance Girardi would go out to visit Betances again without pulling him. Betances had already thrown 15 pitches and handed the Angels the lead; struggling relievers rarely get a leash much longer than that. Joe Girardi made a "the hell?" face during the argument, while the Yankees broadcast crew dismissed Scioscia's argument as "bookkeeping." But it mattered to Scioscia. His face showed how much it mattered to him!
About six years ago, Torii Hunter dove into the stands trying to make a catch with the Angels way ahead, or maybe way behind, late in a game. It seemed pointlessly risky, but Scioscia defended it after the game. Major leaguers are safest when they're playing at full speed, he said. If they start easing up, start acting cautiously, stop acting naturally, that's when they get hurt. This was Scioscia managing at the only speed he knows, with the only face he knows.
He lost the argument.
8. Astros vs. A's: Approaches you've never seen before
A's starter Jesse Hahn threw the first pitch of the game a bit inside, and George Springer fouled it off. Then, Hahn lost it. He threw four straight balls to Springer, the fourth one coming way up and in and glancing off Springer's shoulder and wrist and forcing Springer out of the game. Then he walked Josh Reddick on four pitches, then Carlos Correa on five. Then he fell behind 1-0 to Carlos Beltran. Thirteen of his previous 14 pitches had been balls, one had nearly killed a man, the bases were loaded with nobody out ... and on the next pitch Beltran swung anyway, flying out to center field.
The Astros took the 1-0 lead, but Hahn had an out. He then fell behind in the count 3-0 to Evan Gattis ... who swung anyway, flying out to right field.
Then Marwin Gonzalez got ahead in the count 2-0 and swung, fouling a pitch off. Then another ball, and on 3-1 he swung, flying out. Hahn had thrown 25 pitches in the first inning, and 19 of them were balls. The Astros took one called strike.
I don't believe I've ever seen that.
In the Dodgers game that night, Logan Forsythe led off with a four-pitch walk. Chris Taylor followed with a three-pitch strikeout, all three pitches taken. Then Justin Turner took two strikes before flying out on 0-2. And Cody Bellinger took five pitches in a row, three of them strikes. The Dodgers had swung once in the entire first inning.
Not sure I've ever seen that, either.
9. Pirates vs. Brewers: Technically a record you've never seen before
It's like the saying goes: Every time you turn on a game, you might see something you've never seen before, such as -- be honest -- Corey Knebel.
10. Tigers vs. Mariners: MLB debuts you've never seen before
Every debut is unique. Kyle Crick made his debut for the Giants on June 22. Two years ago, the former first-round pick walked 66 batters in 63 Double-A innings, and he seemed unlikely to ever make the majors. In his debut, 26 of his 33 pitches were strikes, and that night he went to bed holding the major league record for career strike percentage (minimum exactly the number of innings he'd thrown).
Mark Zagunis made his debut for the Cubs on June 22. He was drafted as a catcher/outfielder the same year, and 74 picks later than a much more famous catcher/outfielder, Kyle Schwarber. But while Schwarber quickly moved from that draft to World Series hero, on this day Zagunis has replaced him on the Cubs' roster. (He goes 0-for-5 and steals a base.)
And each allows three runs. Except Moore's three runs come over seven innings, and he gets the win. Povse's come in two-thirds of an inning, and he gets the 40.50 ERA.
11. Giants vs. Braves: Regrets you've never seen before
This is a throw home like I've just never seen before:
What showed up again and again in this day of baseball action were regrets. In a zero-sum activity, failure is guaranteed on every play. Every time you turn on a game, you have a chance to see failure you've never seen before, followed by a reaction shot of the player contemplating this failure.
The Twins hosted the White Sox on June 22. It was raining as game time approached, and the Twins had the option of canceling the game, letting their fans stay home, and making it up another time. They chose not to. Five hours later, they finally got started. A tiny number of fans dotted the stadium, happy to finally see the game they'd waited out a dreary afternoon to see. A pitcher named Nik Turley was making the start.
Turley had once been the 1,502nd player taken in a 1,504-player draft. Despite being picked so low, he decided to forgo a scholarship to BYU and chase the major league dream. After nine minor league seasons and a detour to the independent leagues, he finally made his debut this year, his 10th professional season. This would be his third start.
Within 10 minutes, he trailed 4-0. By the end of the first inning, the Twins were down by five. It was 7-0 in the third. The announced attendance was 27,684 fans, but the vast majority never saw a pitch, and the few who did really got a raw deal. Turley was demoted to Triple-A the next day.
All because the Twins decided to wait out a storm. I have never seen a team make a more regrettable weather-related decision, though at least it brought us Chris Gimenez's sixth pitching appearance.
12. Diamondbacks vs. Rockies: Appealing you've never seen before
In the third inning, after allowing an RBI single, the Rockies appealed to the third-base umpire, claiming that Jeremy Hazelbaker had missed the base when he rounded third. The umpire ruled that Hazelbaker touched the base. I've seen this before! But it's interesting in the replay era, because the Rockies' video-room guys had seen the close-ups of this play already and passed along what they'd seen to the dugout; they already knew whether Hazelbaker had touched the base. So what the heck was their endgame here?
If they thought Hazelbaker missed the base, they could have then asked for video review to get the call overturned. They didn't. So they must not have actually thought Hazelbaker missed the base.
If they didn't think Hazelbaker missed the base, then it wouldn't have really mattered whether the third-base umpire went along with their appeal. The Diamondbacks would have presumably asked for that to be reviewed by the umps with the videos, and presumably that review would have ended with Hazelbaker safe.
Here's a prediction: The weird protocol of appealing to bases by having the pitcher step off, throw to the base, and ask the umpire if he saw it -- that'll be gone in five years. It's a weird relic of the days before replay review. Within five years we'll just go straight to the replay review.
Now, you probably just read those four paragraphs and are thinking, "That? That's all that happened in this game that you had never seen before?" Kind of. This one was tough. I saw a lot happen in baseball on June 22: I saw a guy hit two inning-ending doubles. I saw a catcher who was trying to find a baseball ask the umpire where it was. I saw a manager not use his replay review, and I suspect it was because he wanted to punish his baserunner for a dumb mistake on the basepaths. I saw an outfielder replacing his divot after a slide. I heard two announcers debating whether the phrase is "give that nickel curve a 10-cent ride" or "give that nickel curve a quarter ride," a phrase that I'd never heard in any form at all. I saw a bat boy with a beard. I saw a reliever bat in high leverage with the bases loaded in the eighth inning and draw a four-pitch walk. I saw Ichiro set a record for oldest Ichiro ever to appear in a major league game.
But I'm not sure baseball delivered something for me in this game. My backup was Charlie Blackmon hitting a home run on a pitch that was too low to realistically hit for a homer. It was almost a Statcast-era record! But it was not. There was absolutely nothing in this game that I hadn't seen.
Might be a first.