My introduction to baseball was through the modern American League, where the pitcher never picks up a bat unless something very peculiar occurs. Interleague road trips are a rare chance to laugh at the strangeness of a DH-free lineup, where your starter does stuff like this and all of their at-bats are expected outs. American League pitchers: not typically the heartiest of offensive threats.
Of course, it hasn’t always been this way. The National League does not have a DH rule, and the American only adopted it around 1973, which means Major League Baseball has a long and storied history of pitchers taking cuts with the rest of their teammates.
Sometime last year, I was watching a San Francisco Giants game where Madison Bumgarner, pitching incredibly well, was receiving no run support whatsoever. When Bumgarner took his turn at bat he hit a double, scoring a runner and giving the Giants the lead; he then proceeded to take the mound again and defend that lead for the rest of his time in the game.
I was a little bit in awe of this. Until that point, I hadn’t even considered the possibility of pitchers shouldering the offensive burden as well, giving their team a chance to win on both sides of the equation. It’s admittedly a silly omission, since they’re in the batting order just like the rest, but it’s a little bit cooler when a pitcher is already steamrolling the other team from the mound.
There are plenty of games where pitchers have batted in runs while picking up the win—Yovani Gallardo did it more than once this season alone, and Carlos Zambrano must have done it a million times, most recently here, to name a few. I thought about trying to find a list of pitchers who had batted in the winning run while picking up the win, which would still be a fairly long list.
But what about something even more ridiculous? What about a pitcher throwing a no-hitter and batting in the winning run himself? Has that ever happened? I’d wager it’s the closest you could get to one guy destroying a baseball game all by himself.
Entering Game 4, only one postseason game in the previous 15 days had experienced a lead change. And that was a paltry 1-0 early-inning lead. After the final inning of the Nats-Cards division series, nothing mind-searing has happened. Of fine games, there were plenty. But the kind of screaming hair-pulling madness that consumes many postseasons was absent. It wasn’t until this final game that we saw a game sway to and fro — the Giants leading 1-0, trailing 2-1, leading, 3-2, then being tied at 3 before finally winning. In doing so, they ended one of the most remarkable, and perhaps least appreciated, October title runs in baseball history. After escaping elimination six times, they swept the sweepers.
Case, and season closed.
Virtually every sports fan has a story of a Game 7 that broke their hearts.
At least, those sports fans who enjoy games incorporating a best-of-seven round somewhere — baseball, hockey, basketball … There’s Game 5 do-or-die contests in baseball too, in the Division Series, but “Game 5” doesn’t quite come with the same gravitas. Game 7 is the ultimate. Six games played, three up and three down, and two undoubtedly tired teams must then fight one last time, winner take all. They are sports all wrapped up in one defining game: the highest highs, the lowest lows, the nail-biting and teeth-gnashing and incoherent joyful shouting and some of the most heart-racing seconds you will ever experience.
I’ve got plenty of Game 7 stories, having grown up a hockey fan. It’s where the awe and terror of those words was instilled in me, bound into my instincts. Say “Game 7” to those of us in the know and our hearts begin to pound and our hands start to sweat. They’re the scariest words in sports. Those nights are the best day of someone’s sporting life, and the worst day of someone else’s.
Last season was my first MLB playoffs, and we all know well what Game 7 broke many hearts (and buoyed up many others) then. If we’re going to be perfectly accurate, though, it was Game 6 that did the breaking; the next was just the cherry on top. It ensured that I’ll never be able to confidently say “Down to their last strike” about the Cardinals again—a valuable lesson that no game is ever certain, no lead protected, until the game is over. The Rangers had so many chances, were so close every time, and could never quite make it.