When the Cubs beat the Braves 1-0 on Wednesday, they did it sending a total of 26 men to the plate. It was the first time since 2007 that a team had won a nine-inning game without every spot in the order getting three plate appearances.
Of course, to pull off such a feat a team needs to be at home, meaning it wouldn’t have to bat in the ninth. It would have to score at least one run, meaning the fewest number of plate appearances the team could have is 25. The Cubs had 26 today.
What’s really incredible is that the Cubs actually had five hits. However, the first two singles were erased on double plays and Starlin Castro was thrown out at home trying to stretch a triple into an inside-the-park home run. As a result, Tim Hudson faced the minimum through six.
The Cubs went on to get their run in the seventh on a single, a sac bunt, a groundout and another single. The first runner scored, while the second was left on base, the lone runner left on base for the team. The Cubs then went down in order in the eighth before holding on to win 1-0.
The last team to win a nine inning game while sending 26 men to the plate was the Tigers, against the Indians, on Aug. 21, 2007. They won 2-1 on a pair of solo homers from Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen.
The 1992 Braves were the last team to win a nine-inning game sending 25 men to the plate. They beat the Pirates 1-0 on July 25 on a David Justice homer, the only hit allowed by Danny Jackson.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.