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A closer look at Ryan Dull’s 4-strikeout inning

On April 17, the Oakland A’s reliever made quirky MLB history.

Never a Dull moment.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Two weeks ago, the Oakland A’s achieved one of my favorite statistical quirks when Ryan Dull struck out four batters in one inning. His feat was overshadowed by several even bigger stories at the time, so at first it slipped through the cracks here on Athletics Nation. Now there are a couple bummer losses in the rear-view mirror and an off-day ahead, so let’s double back and take a closer look at Dull’s record-tying inning.

The date was April 17, 2018, which will first and foremost always be known as the Free Game. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of their Oakland debut the team had given out free tickets, attracting an unusually large crowd of 46,028 fans. The A’s didn’t disappoint the packed house, building a 10-0 lead over the lowly White Sox behind the return of long-lost All-Star Trevor Cahill. By the end of the day we’d also witnessed the MLB debut of reliever Lou Trivino, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In the 8th inning, Dull entered to mop up, making his first appearance of the season after a brief DL stint. Here’s his full play-by-play (and here’s video of each Strike 3):

  • Omar Narvaez strikes out swinging, reaches on wild pitch
  • Yoan Moncada homers (Narvaez scores)
  • Avisail Garcia strikes outs swinging
  • Jose Abreu strikes out swinging
  • Matt Davidson strikes out swinging

The inning wasn’t all good, as Dull did serve up a two-run dinger along the way. But to his credit that’s an impressive list of names to mow down, including a couple of All-Stars (Abreu, Garcia) and one of the sport’s 15 or so best hitters so far this year (Davidson). Amazingly, this was already charted territory for some of that group — Abreu and Davidson had been involved in another 4-strikeout inning not even a full year prior, on May 3, 2017, against Nate Karns of the Royals.

Dull was the 83rd different pitcher in MLB history to achieve this feat on his own, and his was the 89th total occurrence. Four pitchers have repeated, and Chuck Finley did it three times including twice in one season. The other repeaters are A.J. Burnett, Zack Greinke, and most recently Craig Kimbrel. There has also been one combined effort, with two pitchers teaming up (including AN favorite Jerry Blevins).

As you might expect, the frequency has increased substantially in recent years as strikeouts have become more prevalent. There were only five instances prior to 1956, only 25 prior to 1996, and fewer in the entire 20th century (37) than just since 2009 (38). Click here for a full official list of solo efforts (MLB’s site), or here for a more organized and complete version (Baseball Almanac), or here for a version with more details (Wikipedia).

In terms of A’s history, Dull was the fourth member of the organization to pull this off. There were none in the Philadelphia or Kansas City years, though once the Philly A’s fell victim to it back in 1916. It took until the late-90s for Oakland to be on the happier side of the event:

  • Blake Stein, 1998 (7/27), vs. Devil Rays (box)
  • Erik Hiljus, 2001 (6/30), vs. Rangers (box)
  • Ryan Cook, 2012 (4/27), vs. Orioles (box)
  • Ryan Dull, 2018 (4/17), vs. White Sox (box)

In an extra twist, all those previous instances came on the road. That means Dull was the first pitcher to notch a 4-strikeout inning in the history of the Oakland Coliseum, on the exact 50th anniversary of the stadium’s first MLB game in 1968. Holy Toledo!

There’s one final detail I’m morbidly curious about, but not quite enough to check. What’s the record for runs allowed during a four-K frame? Dull gave up two, and so did the previous pitcher on the list, Minnesota’s Zach Duke on Opening Day this year. You’d have to imagine it would be tough to give up much more than that while still being good enough to pile up strikeouts and being allowed to stay in the game by the manager. The box scores are almost all available in those Almanac and Wiki links, so if anyone is feeling ambitious then feel free to follow up!

Dull has been a fascinating pitcher to watch for years now, and I’m still a big fan despite his struggles during an injury-plagued 2017. His rise up the minor league system wasn’t one of mere success but rather pure domination (0.74 ERA in 2015, split AA/AAA), and as a rookie he set a big league record by stranding his first 36 inherited runners of the season. Now he’s tied for another more famous record, as the single-inning leader in strikeouts.

Those quirky factoids don’t make him a star on their own, and to be honest I’m usually dubious of relievers who live and die almost entirely on a slider. However, his excellent command helps make him an exception to that preference, and on top of that I can’t help but notice how he continues to do amazing things in a variety of stat columns year after year.

The jury is still out on Dull’s bounce-back campaign this summer, but he’s off to a promising start. He’s officially back in a setup role and already finding his way into the history books. Three Four cheers for Dull!