All the strange things that happen when position players pitch


You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 2016, Toronto’s Darwin Barney gave up a game-winning home run in the 19th inning. Barney, of course, is an infielder, but he was the Blue Jays’ 10th pitcher of this game. It used to be so much fun when a position player pitched because it happened only a few times a year, but now, in an effort to keep pitchers healthy, we see more position players called on to pitch when games are out of reach. In 2019, it happened 56 times, up from 49 in 2018. In no other season since 1900 had it happened more than 25 times.

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When position players pitch, odd, funny things usually happen, especially if one gets a decision. Rocky Colavito is the only player to have a four-homer game (1959) and a pitching victory (1968) in his career. The Orioles’ Chris Davis (2012), Babe Ruth (1930) and Jim Tobin (1942), a pitcher, are the only players to have a three-homer game and a pitching victory in the same season. In Davis’ victory in 17 innings over the Red Sox, the losing pitcher was outfielder Darnell McDonald. There is no way to be certain about this, but it is believed to be the first time since 1909 that the winning and losing pitcher in a game were position players.

In 2014, Cubs catcher John Baker pitched the 16th inning of a game, got the victory and scored the winning run, the first player to record his first major league victory and score the winning run since Ryan Hancock, a pitcher for the Angels in 1996. In 1988, Cardinals infielder Jose Oquendo entered the game in the 16th inning, pitched three scoreless innings, then gave up two runs in the 19th to lose 7-5 to the Braves.

In 2014, Tigers infielder Danny Worth, using a knuckleball, became the first position player since 1969 to throw a scoreless inning in a game and record two strikeouts. Catcher Drew Butera and his catcher and father, Sal, are the only father-son position players to pitch in a major league game. The first two players named Cody ever to pitch in a game were position players, catcher Cody McKay in 2004 and outfielder Cody Ross in 2009.

In 2019, Dodgers catcher Russell Martin became the first player since Andrew Romine in 2017 to pitch in a nine-inning victory (18-5), but that was the day that Romine played all nine positions. Take away the nine-position stunts and the last position player before Martin to pitch in a nine-inning victory was Colavito, who threw 2⅔ innings in a 6-5 victory in 1968.

Outfielder Doug Dascenzo, 5-foot-7, pitched four times in the major leagues. “I am the short reliever,” he said.

In 1989, Pirates outfielder John Cangelosi, who is 5-8, pitched in a blowout loss at Dodger Stadium. His catcher was 6-4 first baseman Dave Hostetler, his only game ever behind the plate. “He looked like he was wearing the gear that a 10-year-old would wear,” said Pirates coach Rich Donnelly. “His shin guards didn’t even cover his shins. And when Cangy walked off the back of the mound to pick up the rosin bag, he just disappeared from view. All you could see was the top of his cap.”

The only position other than catcher that David Ross played in his 15-year career was pitcher — twice in 2015. In that second game, he hit a homer after he had pitched an inning. The first of Ross’ 106 career homers in the major leagues came off a position player, Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace. Grace looked at the press box and, through hand motions, asked broadcaster Rick Sutcliffe what pitch to throw. Sutcliffe said “curveball.” Grace screamed back, “I don’t have a curveball!” So Ross hit a fastball for a home run. As he ran around the bases, Grace yelled at him, “You’re making me look bad!”

Other baseball notes for July 1

In 1945, the Tigers’ Hank Greenberg, in his first game back after being discharged from military service, hit a home run. He is among the most underrated players in major league history.

In 1982, Orioles manager Earl Weaver moved Cal Ripken from third base to shortstop. Typical Earl, he could see what others couldn’t, that Ripken could handle shortstop defensively and he would bring power to what then was a non-power position. There was no advance warning. Ripken showed up to the park, looked at the lineup card and Weaver told him he’s the shortstop. He played it for the next 15 years.

In 1980, Nelson Cruz was born. Buck Showalter always used to say that someday Cruz “will hit the longest home run in major league history.” He’s one of 15 players with four or fewer letters in his last name to hit 40 home runs in one season.

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