On Thursday, outfielder Ka’ai Tom made his MLB debut.
With his 27th birthday fast approaching, Tom had put together an excellent track record in the minors but hadn’t yet gotten his chance in the bigs. The Oakland A’s rolled the dice, pulling him in the Rule 5 draft and giving him a spot on the Opening Day roster after an impressive spring training performance.
Tom got into the first game of the season as a pinch-runner and later received his first plate appearance. He made his first start the next day.
Sunday brought his next opportunity, but he could never have imagined what it would entail. For eight innings it was everything he’d dreamed of, manning left field in an MLB game and taking some hacks at the plate over three at-bats.
But in the 9th inning, the A’s found themselves down 9-2, at the end of a humiliating sweep that had left their bullpen in tatters. They needed help, from wherever they could get it, and that’s when things got weird.
For the first time since high school, Tom was called on to pitch. Against the Houston Astros, who had just scored 35 runs over four games. Due up: Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, and backup infielder Robel Garcia.
Tom’s first pitch clocked in at 69.1 mph, a called strike to a former MVP.
welp, Ka'ai Tom is making his MLB pitching debut pic.twitter.com/OEOvEhFzjw— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 4, 2021
The next pitch registered on Statcast as his only curveball, at 57.7 mph, but it might have just been a particularly soft lob. From there he operated at around 70 mph, inching up toward 72 as the outing went on.
Ka'ai Tom: "I was actually looking at the radar - every single time I was apparently throwing curveballs." #Athletics— Matt Kawahara (@matthewkawahara) April 4, 2021
After a few foul balls, the seventh pitch to Altuve was popped up for the first out. Next up, a six-pitch battle with Tucker resulted in another infield popout, a few hours after the lefty slugger had homered in the 1st inning.
Ka'ai Tom: "When I was on the mound I was just hoping they did not hit the ball back to me."— Matt Kawahara (@matthewkawahara) April 4, 2021
Tom nearly made it a perfect 1-2-3 frame, but for some bad luck. Garcia sent his second pitch dribbling toward third base, at a 46.7 mph exit velocity that made it barely harder than a bunt. However, the infield was shifted over for the lefty hitter, so there was nobody manning the hot corner to collect the cold grounder. Garcia reached with an infield single.
That brought up cleanup hitter Yordan Alvarez, the early MLB leader in RBI entering the day. Alvarez connected with a 72.4 mph heater, Tom’s fastest pitch of the day, and pulled a soft grounder to the right side. This time it went directly into the shift instead of around it, and the inning was over.
Just call him Blaze.
Tom said he was looking at the radar gun that was reading all curveballs. Sergio Romo said: "You throw more off-speed than I do."— Shayna Rubin (@ShaynaRubin) April 4, 2021
It’s always a fun consolation to see a position player pitch at the end of a blowout, especially when he finishes with a 0.00 ERA to take the team lead. But Tom added an extra weird distinction to his early career stat line.
Through six plate appearances so far, the rookie is yet to collect his first MLB hit. That means, despite being an outfielder, he allowed a hit as a pitcher before collecting one himself as a hitter. In a million years, he would have never guessed that’s how his career in the majors would begin, nor that his “first MLB hit” would be of this nature.
Let’s conclude with a question to think about. Was Ka’ai Tom (5’9”) vs. Jose Altuve (5’6”) the shortest pitcher/hitter matchup in MLB history?
19,909th player in MLB history: Ka'ai Tom— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) April 2, 2021
- same HS in HI as Benny Agbayani, Tua Tagovailoa
- NJCAA All-American at Fort Scott Community College (KS) in '13, then transferred to Kentucky
- 5th round pick by CLE in '15
- .912 OPS across AA/AAA in '19
- Rule 5 pick in Dec. '20 pic.twitter.com/8cW3qUjsDf
This was the 15th time that the Oakland A’s have called on a position player to pitch, and the 14th different player to do it. Here’s the full list (there are several more from the Philly and KC days, though):
- Jeff Newman 9/14/77
- Wayne Gross 5/18/83
- Garry Hancock 6/25/84
- Mark Wagner 8/20/84
- Vance Law 10/2/91
- Kevin Seitzer 5/2/93
- Frank Menechino 7/18/00
- Ike Davis 4/21/15
- Ike Davis (again) 8/16/15
- Josh Phegley 5/8/16
- Tyler Ladendorf 6/3/16
- Jake Smolinski 6/13/18
- Kendrys Morales 4/20/19
- Nick Martini 7/22/19
- Ka’ai Tom 4/4/21