Monday, August 26, 2013

The Ballad of Jose Oquendo

Pictured: Jose Oquendo, probably not pitching.

Andrew Koo wrote an article for BP today about position players pitching in extra innings. He noted that 2013 marks the sixth straight year in which this has happened, and chalks it up to increasing reliever specialization: if all your relievers are used to going no more than 2 innings per outing, you're much more likely to run out of pitchers in an 18-inning game. I would add the diminishing run environment -- less offense means that tie games last longer.

But that's not what I'm here to write about. I'm here to write about Jose Oquendo.

On May 14, 1988, Oquendo threw four innings against the Atlanta Braves and picked up the loss in a 7-5, 19-inning affair. Absent any evidence to the contrary, I'm going to claim that Oquendo owns the record for most innings pitched in a single outing by a position player. Let's go through the box score for this and dive into the blissful craziness that was the end of this game.

  • The first thing we note is that the Braves used 16 players to the Cardinals' 23. And whereas the Cardinals' half of the box score is a mess of double-switching and position changes, the Braves' side is nice and neat: 8 of the Braves' starting 9 finished the game, and finished the game at the same position.
  • In contrast to the Braves, look at the positions next to the Cards' Tom Brunansky: RF-LF-RF-LF-RF-LF-RF-LF-RF-LF-RF-LF. That's 12 different positions in one game. That has to also be a record, right? Wrong. (Incidentally, the only thing funnier than Cecil Fielder, second baseman, is the thought of Cecil Fielder shuttling between second and third 19 times in a game.)
  • Side note: Tom Brunansky. Willie McGee. Luis Alicea. Tony Pena. Damn, those early-90s Red Sox loved them some late-80s Cardinals.
  • More investigation reveals that, as Bruno was switching from right to left field, Jose DeLeon was switching between left and right, and vice versa. This started in the 16th, just as Jose Oquendo took the bump. DeLeon was normally a pitcher, and had just gone 8.2 IP the day before, so you can understand why manager Whitey Herzog would be reluctant to put him back on the mound. But desperate times called for desperate substitutions. And desperate to hide his pitcher-turned-outfielder, Herzog shifted him back and forth based on the handedness of the batter.

    I had no idea this was allowed above, like, rec-league softball. Turns out, though, the only vaguely related rule in the official MLB rulebook is Rule 3.03, which prevents pitchers being shuttled between the field and the mound. So if DeLeon and Oquendo had alternated batters on the mound and in the outfield, no dice, but otherwise, the Cardinals could have rotated like volleyball players after every batter and there's no rule against it.
  • The game-winning runs scored on a Ken Griffey, Sr., double to DeLeon in left field. Without video, I can't prove that someone finally succeeded in aiming for the pitcher, and that the defense behind Oquendo is what really cost him the game. But I can certainly speculate.
  • Adding insult to injury, after DeLeon failed to prevent the winning runs in the top of the 19th, Herzog pinch-hit for him with pitcher John Tudor. Tudor (who grounded out to first) had pitched two days before against the Giants and was also unavailable to pitch. A comparison of that start with Oquendo's relief effort:
    Pitcher IP H R ER BF Pitches
    Tudor 3.2 7 7 2 24 97
    Oquendo 4.0 4 2 2 21 65

    I know, I'm not adjusting for strength of opponents or anything, but still: three fewer batters, one more out, 32 fewer pitches. Jose "Efficiency" Oquendo, ladies and gentlemen.
  • The only Cardinal not used in this game was Larry McWilliams, who started the series finale the following day. To the eternal gratitude of the St. Louis bullpen, he threw a solid 7.1 innings.
  • Notice that 23 used + 1 unused = 24 players on the St. Louis roster, not the usual 25. I spent like 10 minutes hunting for the 25th player before realizing roster sizes had changed. Apparently the roster size was officially stipulated to be "24 or 25 players" in the mid-80s, so the owners chose the 24-man size and pocketed the extra cash.
  • I claimed Oquendo had the record for most innings pitched by a position player, and Andrew Koo concurs, at least going back to 1969. Second place goes to Toronto's Craig Kusick, who pitched 3.2 innings in 1979 in a 24-2 loss to the Angels. Yep: Kusick threw nearly four innings in a nine-inning game, and had by far the best line of any Blue Jays' pitcher. Oh, and the game lasted 2:41.
Thanks to Andrew Koo (@akoo on Twitter) for the original articles and the Fielder/Kusick fun facts.

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