The Oakland A’s had a wild night on Friday. They scored a season-high 14 runs in a rout of the Pirates, pitcher Brett Anderson went 2-for-3 at the plate, and outfielder Skye Bolt made his MLB debut. But the star of the evening was catcher Josh Phegley, who accounted for over half of the team’s scoring on his own.
Batting out of the eighth spot in the lineup, Phegley drove in eight runs for Oakland. He went 4-for-5 with a solo homer, two bases-clearing doubles, and an RBI single. Sure, he grounded into a double play in his other at-bat, but by that point the A’s had a 10-run lead and so really he did everyone a favor by keeping the game moving.
This was obviously a career-best performance for Phegley, but it was also historic in a lot of ways. Here are the eight best things about Phegley’s eight RBI.
1. Only one Oakland player ever had more
On June 14, 1969, the A’s second season in Oakland, Reggie Jackson drove in 10 runs against the Red Sox. Since then, no A’s player has ever driven in more than eight in a game. Here’s the list, from 51-plus seasons of Oakland history:
- 10: Reggie Jackson (6/14/1969)
- 8: Dave Kingman (4/16/1984)
- 8: Miguel Tejada (6/30/2001)
- 8: Eric Chavez (8/30/2001)
- 8: Josh Phegley (5/3/2019)
Here’s another way to look at those names.
- Hall of Famer
- Slugger with 442 career homers
- Last A’s player to win MVP
- Holds record for biggest contract in team history
- Josh Phegley
Take it back through the Philadelphia years, and you add three more entries: Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx had games of nine and eight RBI, and eight-time All-Star Bob Johnson drove in eight once. That’s the whole list.
Here’s some extra context for how impressive that company is. Entering the evening, Phegley had 111 RBI in his career. Every other player on the list had at least one season with more than that. With 162 games each year, we see an occasional big night from an unlikely source, but this is rarefied air in terms of driving in runs.
2. Most ever by an A’s catcher
As you can see above, none of the other players mentioned were catchers. Phegley’s eight RBI are the most ever by an A’s backstop, with three players tied for the next spot on the list:
- 6: Mickey Cochrane (7/30/1931)
- 6: Joe Astroth (9/23/1950)
- 6: Derek Norris (5/11/2014)
Cochrane is a Hall of Famer, and he and Astroth are from the Philly days. Norris, who made the All-Star team that year for Oakland, had his big night courtesy of a pair of three-run homers off Gio Gonzalez, the pitcher he was traded for.
3. Fourth-most by ANY catcher
Even among all of MLB history, this was still an impressive showing. Only three times has a major league catcher ever racked up more than eight RBI in a game.
- 10: Walker Cooper, CIN (7/6/1949)
- 9: Smoky Burgess, CIN (7/29/1955)
- 9: Ivan Rodriguez, TEX (4/3/1999)
Two Reds catchers, and neither is Johnny Bench. Cooper and Burgess were no slouches, though, combining for 17 All-Star appearances between them and finishing their careers as above-average hitters. As for Pudge, he won the MVP that year and is now a Hall of Famer.
Nine other catchers have matched Phegley’s eight RBI, and this time the list is a bit more eclectic. There’s a Hall of Famer, another MVP, a few more good hitters, and a couple who weren’t so good. In chronological order: Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Ed Bailey, George Mitterwald, Barry Foote, Chris Hoiles, J.R. Towles, Yasmani Grandal, Chris Iannetta, and now Phegley.
4. MLB leader
While Phegley isn’t exactly a household name nationally, this outburst also didn’t come out of nowhere. He’s quietly off to a fine start this season, including a nice showing on the team’s last road trip. The homer on Friday was his fourth of the season, already tied for the second-most of his career (most is nine), and his wRC+ is up to a personal-best 131 (after starting the day at a decent 98).
The eight RBI raise his season total to 21, which leads the AL and ties Yadier Molina for the most among all MLB catchers. And Molina technically got one of his while playing first base, so you could make an argument that Phegs is the outright leader.
5. Fifth-most by a #8 hitter
Even with his strong start, though, Phegley still bats toward the bottom of the A’s lineup. He was hitting eighth on Friday, and he did about as well as a No. 8 batter ever has. Only four times has an eighth hitter driven in more runs.
- 11: Tony Lazzeri, NYY (5/24/1936)
- 9: Mike Greenwell, BOS (9/2/96)
- 9: Bill Mueller, BOS (7/29/03)
- 9: James Loney, LAD (9/28/06)
Tied with Phegley’s eight are the aforementioned catchers Hoiles and Towles, plus second baseman Alex Kampouris of the Dodgers (5/9/1937).
If you expand to also include No. 9 batters, you only get one more entry. That’s Braves pitcher Tony Cloninger, who drove in nine runs in a game against the Giants a half-century ago (7/3/1966).
6. Tied for 41st all-time
OK, forget qualifiers. This was simply one of the biggest RBI days of all time.
Two players have ever reached a dozen, and they were both Cardinals. One was outfielder Mark Whiten with his four-homer game in 1993. The other was first baseman Jim Bottomley, a Veteran’s Committee Hall of Famer, who did it back in 1924.
Two other players have reached 11, both in the first half of the 20th century. One was the aforementioned Lazzeri, a second baseman for the Yankees who is also a Veteran’s Committee Hall of Famer. He stands as the all-time AL leader, with the unfortunate footnote that his big day came against the Philly A’s. The other was Phil Weintraub, a first baseman for the New York Giants in 1944.
Another 11 players put up 10 RBI, including the aforementioned game by Reggie. Then 25 more racked up nine apiece.
Take it down to eight RBI in a game, and Phegley is tied for 41st place all-time. He shares that spot with 107 other players, but still. As an extra bonus, only one of those Top 147 games came against Oakland, by Chris James of the Orioles in 1991 — though there were five more against the Philly A’s (including one by Lou Gehrig), and two against the Kansas City A’s (including the aforementioned Elston Howard).
Three entries from the list came as recently as last season. Mark Reynolds had a game of 10, while Trea Turner and Didi Gregorius each put up eight.
7. They weren’t cheapies
Other than solo homers, all RBI require a little bit of luck. After all, the prerequisite is that you come to bat with runners on base, and that’s not something you have any control over. It’s up to your teammates to set the table for you, because no matter how well you hit the ball you can’t drive in runners that aren’t there.
Phegley couldn’t have done all this without his teammates setting him up, but once he had those opportunities he made the most of them with great contact each time.
His night began in the 2nd inning, with the bases loaded and nobody out. He ripped a grounder down the line with a 102 mph exit velocity, clearing the bases. It got a funky carom off a corner of a wall, but it wasn’t any worse than having it go all the way into the LF corner and rattle around there. He came up again in the 3rd with a runner in scoring position and lined one the other way to drive him in. While it was only 81.3 mph off the bat, Statcast says that ball falls in safely over half the time.
His next two hits were even better, both smashed with 104 mph exit velocities. With the bases juiced once more in the 4th, he drilled the ball over the left fielder’s head, landing it on the warning track and clearing ‘em all again. Then, in the 9th, he upped the launch angle and smoked a 413-foot homer to left.
✅First four-hit game of his career— Oakland A's (@Athletics) May 4, 2019
✅Team record eight RBI by a catcher
✅First A's player with eight RBI since 2001
Turn it over to @MLBNetwork right now to watch Josh talk about his record-breaking night! #RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/SZmvv3yXxp
8. The A’s needed it
Oakland entered Friday on a six-game losing streak, encompassing their entire road trip so far. That skid dropped them into last place in the division. We’ve only just begun the month of May so the standings don’t mean much yet, but you still want to snap the funk ASAP before the hole gets dug too deep.
The A’s needed someone to be their stopper, and Phegley stepped up. Other players chipped in too, of course — Anderson pitched six wonderful innings, and Kendrys Morales had his best game of the year with three hits and a walk to help set the table. But it was Phegley who laid down the hammer, over and over, to turn rallies into runs and a good team effort into a no-stress win.
Even better, the heroics came from the catcher position. It’s been a point of criticism on the A’s roster, with virtually no money spent on it over the offseason after last year’s starter departed via free agency, but Phegley is making it a source of production after all. And even if it turns out to just be a hot streak, and he eventually turns back into a pumpkin (career 76 wRC+), he’s at least keeping things warm while we wait for top prospect Sean Murphy to arrive and intended starter Chris Herrmann to return from injury. It’s a timely performance by one of the longest-tenured players on the team.
Eight cheers for a great game by Josh Phegley!