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The historical oddity of the Cubs playing three pitchers in the outfield

He’s a man who once wrote a lineup card based on an ‘80s rock song ("867-5309")... He’s a man who once intentionally walked Josh Hamilton even though the bases were already loaded at the time... He’s a man who once had an outfielder (Sam Fuld) go to the mound to warm up between innings, even though there were never any plans for him to actually pitch.

So three pitchers playing the outfield? In the same game? Just another day in the managerial life of the least conventional manager of his time -- Mr. Joe Maddon, ladies and gentlemen.

Nevertheless, the manager of those freewheeling Chicago Cubs has really outdone himself this time. In a totally insane 15-inning game in Cincinnati on Tuesday night, Maddon sent more PITCHERS out to play left field in three innings (three) than the number of outfielders the New York Yankees have sent out to play left field during this entire season (two). Yeah, seriously.

And how often has any team used three pitchers in the outfield in one game in the rich and glorious history of baseball? Best we can tell, that would be never. Ever. At least in modern times.

But before we place this wacky development in more historic perspective, we’d better recap what the heck happened in this game.

By the bottom of the 13th inning, Maddon was totally out of position players. So first, he double-switched his third left fielder of the night, Chris Coghlan, out of the game and stationed reliever Travis Wood in left.

Then, in the 14th, Wood batted in the top of the inning, and (naturally) went back to left field to start the bottom of the inning. Whereupon things got even more bananas. The Cubs’ sixth reliever of the game, Spencer Patton, retired Brandon Phillips for the first out. Then Patton trotted out to left so Wood could march in to face the left-handed-hitting Jay Bruce. After which Wood and Patton switched places again so Patton could pitch to Adam Duvall, with Wood playing left field.

But was there more to come? Of course there was. In the top of the 15th, Maddon used another pitcher, Jason Hammel, to pinch-hit for Patton. Which meant that when the bottom of the 15th began, a third pitcher, Pedro Strop, would find himself playing left while Wood got the final three outs.

And there you had it. A guy who entered the game as a left fielder wound up retiring four hitters (just not in a row). And the Cubs had done all kinds of stuff no living human had ever witnessed before. Like this, for instance:

  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last game in which three pitchers made it into the box score as position players in the same game was on June 29, 1961 -- in a Giants-Phillies game played almost exactly 55 years earlier. But wait. Asterisk alert! None of those three actually played that day. When the Giants refused to announce their starting pitcher for the first game of a doubleheader, Phillies manager Gene Mauch cagily wrote three pitchers into his starting lineup (at center field, right field and catcher, theoretically). Then he replaced all three of them with real position players once the Giants finally revealed that Juan Marichal was pitching. So...

  • That makes Tuesday’s nutfest in Cincinnati the first game in the expansion era in which three pitchers actually PLAYED the outfield, or any other positions, in the same game. But hold on. There’s more...

  • According to baseball-reference.com’s handy dandy Play Index, you can go back all the way to 1913 and not find any other game of any length in which three pitchers played the field in the same game. In the outfield or anywhere else. Not for the Cubs. Not for anyone else. And speaking of the Cubs...

  • In that same span, the Cubs’ game notes report, the Cubs had played zero games in which they even used TWO different pitchers as position players. Then, naturally, Maddon used three of them. But the cool part about that is...

  • The last time three Cubs pitchers even played in the field in the same SEASON, let alone the same game, was in 1904, when Bob Wicker played 20 games in the outfield, Frank Corridon got into five games at first base and the legendary Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown made cameo appearances at second base and the outfield. Ah, but times sure were different then. Wicker won 17 games that year. Can you imagine Maddon running Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester out to first base 20 times between now and October?

Um, wait. Don’t answer that! Of course you could. He’s Joe Maddon. He’s a man who doesn’t just think outside the box. He’s a man who often forgets there even IS a box. He’s the Benjamin Franklin of managers. So it makes total sense that, on this goofy night in Cincinnati, necessity was definitely the mother of Joe Maddon’s latest managerial invention.