Elias Says: July 22, 2017

Sch-ocking start for Nationals ace

Max Scherzer has accomplished a great many feats in his major-league career, having won two Cy Young Awards, thrown two no-hitters, started two All Star Games, and struck out a record-tying 20 in a start. On Friday, Scherzer did something just as rare as any of those feats, allowing back-to-back-to-back home runs to the first three Diamondbacks batters he faced at Chase Field. Scherzer, who had never allowed three consecutive homers at any point of a game before Friday, became the fifth pitcher in major-league history to allow home runs to a team’s first three batters of a game. None of the first four pitchers to do so got so much as a vote for a Cy Young award nor a single All-Star appearance – Roger Mason (1987), Jeff Austin (2003), Phil Dumatrait (2007), and Colby Lewis (2012). Lewis is the only one of that four with a winning record (77–72), with the others combining for 28 wins and 51 losses.

The first time that Scherzer ever allowed three homers in a game, not necessarily consecutive, came on May 10, 2009, also in Arizona, but when he was pitching for the Diamondbacks against the Nationals! That was Scherzer’s 13th start in the majors (in addition to nine relief appearances), and he was still winless (0–7) in his major-league career to that point. Washington’s Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham reached him for back-to-back blasts in the third inning, and then Dunn connected again in the fifth. The Diamondbacks came back to win that game, 10–8, sealing the first major-league managerial win for A.J. Hinch, who had replaced Bob Melvin as Arizona’s manager two days earlier.

Diamondbacks notch another walkoff win

The Nationals got Scherzer off the hook by erasing their five-run deficit over a five-inning span, but the Diamondbacks prevailed thanks to a clutch leadoff triple by A.J. Pollock to lead off the bottom of the ninth and, after a couple of intentional walks, a game-ending single by Brandon Drury. That was the seventh walkoff victory for Arizona this season, tied for the most in the majors, and the team’s first such win against the Nationals since that franchise relocated to Washington, D.C. in 2005.

Cardinals conduct conga line around bases at Wrigley

The Cardinals erased an eighth-inning deficit at Wrigley Field in a big way, scoring nine runs against three Cubs relief pitchers to come away victorious. St. Louis had played 964 games at Wrigley Field entering play on Friday, but only once did the Cards score as many as nine runs in an inning there. Coincidentally, that previous occurrence was also a nine-run outburst in the top of the eighth inning, taking place on June 26, 1962 at the “Friendly Confines.”

Another impressive aspect of the Cardinals’ big inning was that they scored all nine runs before an out was recorded, making them the first team in just over two years to accomplish that feat. The Blue Jays were the most recent team to do that, scoring nine runs with no outs in the seventh inning at Fenway Park on June 12, 2015.

Each of the first 11 Cardinals hitters that came to bat in the eighth inning on Friday reached base safely, with six producing hits and five drawing walks. That was the longest inning-opening streak of reaching base safely – that is, via hit, walk, or hit-by-pitch – for any team in the last eight seasons. The last team with such a streak was the Red Sox, whose first 12 batters reached base safely in the sixth inning against the Indians on May 7, 2009 at Fenway Park.

Mount Rushmore of strikeout artists: Ryan, Big Unit, Pedro, Sale

Chris Sale concluded his 20th start of the 2017 season by striking out Kole Calhoun to finish off the Angels in the sixth inning. That was Sale’s 200th strikeout of the season, making him the fourth pitcher in major-league history to record at least 200 strikeouts in his first 20 starts of a season. Nolan Ryan was the first to do so, racking up 211 strikeouts through his first 20 starts in 1977. Randy Johnson achieved that feat in three consecutive seasons for the Diamondbacks, from 1999 to 2001. Pedro Martinez had been the only Red Sox pitcher to do so before Sale, having struck out 204 through 20 starts for Boston in 2000.

Sale reached the 200-strikeout plateau in just 141⅓ innings. No pitcher in American League history recorded his 200th strikeout of a season in fewer innings than Sale did this year. The previous fastest to 200 strikeouts in terms of innings among A.L. pitchers was Randy Johnson, who had pitched 143 innings at the time of his 200th strikeout for the 1995 Mariners.

Garcia offers a grand finale for Wood’s undefeated streak

Alex Wood’s unbeaten run came to an end on Friday thanks in part to Jaime Garcia, who pitched seven effective innings and finished Wood’s outing in grand fashion. With two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth inning, Garcia slammed Wood’s 0–2 pitch to the right field bleachers to become the first Braves pitcher in over 50 years to homer with the bases full. Tony Cloninger was the last to do so for Atlanta; he hit two grand slams in the same game on July 3, 1966 in San Francisco. Garcia also became the second pitcher in the 55-year history of Dodger Stadium to hit a grand slam, joining Hall-of-Famer Steve Carlton, who did so for the Phillies on May 16, 1984.

Encarnacion powers up versus old mates

After going homerless in his first series against the Blue Jays in May, Edwin Encarnacion homered in his first at-bat on Friday against his former team, putting the Indians on the scoreboard in their victory over Toronto. That round-tripper was the last notch on Encarnacion’s home run belt – he has now gone deep against all 30 active major-league franchises. Encarnacion became the 55th player to hit a home run against all 30 current major-league teams. He slammed a longball in his first game against three different teams: the Padres, Cubs, and Nationals. The team that held Encarnacion homerless the longest was the Astros; Encarnacion started his major-league career with 29 homerless games (and 98 at-bats) against Houston before clearing the wall in game #30. The Orioles have been victimized the most times by Encarnacion’s round-trippers – he has hit 35 home runs in 131 games against Baltimore.

Astros hold off Orioles

The Astros survived a five-run rally in the ninth inning to defeat the Orioles, 8–7. With the win, Houston improved its record to 10–1 (.909) against Baltimore since the start of the 2016 season. That’s the best record for any team against a particular opponent with at least 10 head-to-head matchups since the start of last season.

Big night for Gurriel

Yuli Gurriel was the major contributor for the Astros at the plate on Friday night, going 4-for-5 including a two-run homer in the first inning. It was the first four-hit game in the majors for the 33-year-old rookie. The only other active player to produce his first four-hit game in the majors at age 33 or older was John Jaso, who was 33 years old when he hit for the cycle on September 28 last season for the Pirates at home against the Cubs. That game marked the first, and as of now the only, four-hit game in the majors for Jaso.

A big game for Szczur off the bench (or is it out of the dugout?)

Matt Szczur, after entering the game as part of a double-switch in the fourth inning, went 4-for-5 including an 11th-inning single that drove in the go-ahead run in the Padres’ 12–9 win at San Francisco. The last major-league player to have four hits and a game-winning RBI in a game he did not start was the Phillies’ Chris Coste, against the Mets on Aug. 26, 2008. And no San Diego player had ever accumulated more than three hits “off the bench” in one game.

A happy birthday for Sabathia

CC Sabathia celebrated his 37th birthday with a win after holding the Mariners to one run over five innings at Safeco Field. Sabathia, who had been 0–3 with a 6.99 ERA on his birthday prior to his win on Friday, matched Red Ruffing as the oldest Yankee pitcher to earn a win as a starting pitcher on his birthday. Ruffing pitched New York to victory against the White Sox on his 37th birthday in 1942.

Sabathia spectacular at Safeco

With the win, Sabathia improved his record at Safeco Field to 10–1 (.909) in 14 starts at that ballpark. Only two active pitchers have as high a winning percentage with at least 10 decisions as a visiting pitcher at a particular ballpark than Sabathia has at Safeco Field. Bartolo Colon is 13–1 (.929) at Safeco Field, and Gio Gonzalez is 10–1 (.909) at Citi Field.

Darvish carves up Rays

Yu Darvish racked up a season-high 12 strikeouts in the Rangers’ victory over the Rays on Friday. That was the 32nd time that Darvish reached double-digits in strikeouts in a major-league game, the most such performances by a pitcher born in Japan. Darvish entered the day tied with Hideo Nomo, who compiled 31 games of that kind in 12 major-league seasons.

Mets leadoff man does damage

Michael Conforto provided a pair of two-run homers from atop the Mets lineup in New York’s 7–5 win over the A’s. Friday’s game marked Conforto’s third multi-homer game of the season; he also homered twice from the leadoff spot on April 29 at Washington and May 23 versus the Padres. Conforto is now tied with crosstown rival Brett Gardner for the second-most multi-homer games for a starting leadoff hitter this season; George Springer has a majors-leading four games of that kind for the Astros.

Conforto also became the third player in Mets history to hit multiple homers as the team’s leadoff hitter in three or more games within a single season. Tommie Agee had three such games in back-to-back seasons (1969–70), and Curtis Granderson accomplished that feat three times in 2015.

Low-scoring win for Marlins on the road

The Marlins started their six-game road trip on a positive note, defeating the Reds, 3–1, in Cincinnati. Friday’s victory marked the first time this season that Miami won a road game when scoring no more than three runs; the Marlins had been 0–16 when scoring three or fewer runs on the road prior to that. That leaves the Tigers as the only team this season that has not won a road game when scoring fewer than four runs (Detroit is 0–21 in such games this year).

Bell tolls twice early for Pirates

Josh Bell’s run-scoring single put the Pirates on the board in the top of the first inning at Coors Field on Friday. Then, after the Rockies took the lead in the bottom of the first, Bell struck again in the top of the second inning, hitting a bases-clearing double to give Pittsburgh the lead for good. Bell is the third player this season to produce a go-ahead RBI for his team in both the first and second inning of a game. The others to do so were Bryce Harper (April 19 at Atlanta) and Anthony Rizzo (June 13 at the Mets).

V-Mart leads Tigers to victory

Victor Martinez homered twice to drive in three runs in the Tigers’ 6–3 victory over the Twins. Martinez has driven in 120 runs in 200 games against Minnesota, which is his second-highest RBI total versus any opponent (130 RBIs against the Royals). The only other active player with as many RBIs against the Twins is Martinez’s teammate Miguel Cabrera, who has 139 RBIs versus Minnesota.