The Oakland A’s beat the Texas Rangers 12-3 on Saturday, and it was a big enough blowout that the losing side decided it wasn’t worth spending any more relievers to finish off the game. In the 8th inning, third baseman Brock Holt came off the bench and took the mound to pitch.
It’s already fun enough to watch your club score a dozen runs in an afternoon, but Holt made sure the end of the rout was every bit as entertaining, even beyond the typical novelty of seeing a position player on the bump. For the A’s hitters it was garbage time, as they had nothing left to prove that day, but for fans it was a spectacle worthy of staying tuned in.
The scoreless inning took only three minutes to complete, and you can watch the whole thing below.
There’s a lot to take in there, so let’s go one awesome moment at a time.
Holt’s first pitch of the inning registered only 31.1 mph, a big loopy eephus with almost 25 feet of vertical drop. In other words, he lobbed a lollipop in there, at something resembling the minimum speed physically possible to get the ball over the plate on the fly. And the umpire called it a strike!
It was not a strike. Not even close. Statcast shows it crossed the plate around the batter’s eye-level, at least a foot above the zone. But can you really blame the ump here? This was nothing like the pitches he’s highly trained to see and judge, and it did hit the catcher’s glove almost precisely. Without the benefit of the visual aids on the broadcast, would any of us have realized it missed by so much?
At 31.1 mph, Holt’s offering is the slowest pitch to be called a strike since pitch-tracking began in 2008, reports insider Sarah Langs. The previous record was held by Willians Astudillo, who got a call at 41.3 mph this June.
Holt’s second pitch yielded an even better result. He dialed it up to 32.6 mph, and got Josh Harrison to swing and tap a grounder back to the mound. One out!
A 31.1 mph pitch? WHAT IS HAPPENING?! pic.twitter.com/DfdcG2VXjw— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) August 7, 2021
Harrison had a laugh about the matchup, saying the following after the game, via Rickey Blog:
“As far as facing Brock Holt, old teammate of mine. He actually pitched for us [with the Washington Nationals] last year, so I knew what the scouting report was, but actually facing it’s a lot slower than I really remember.”
We didn’t need to wait until post-game to hear some yuks, though, thanks to the A’s broadcasters. Glen Kuiper managed to keep delivering play-by-play in between chuckles, but Dallas Braden was howling with laughter from the very first pitch. After just two pitches, he was eliciting a high-pitched giggle of pure joy, which betrayed how he’s actually three Little Leaguers stacked on top of each other wearing a trench coat.
Next up was Matt Chapman, and the first pitch to him was a foot outside. Catcher Jose Trevino is one of the best pitch framers in the majors, but even he wasn’t able to salvage this one. “The frame job!” exclaimed Braden with glee.
The next pitch was up-and-in, and Chapman went for it. He ripped it into left field for a hit, but then tried to stretch his single into a double and was thrown out. I’m not sure this really qualifies as a TOOTBLAN, because at that point the primary objective was ending the game not scoring more runs. Rather than debate that, let’s spend the time enjoying Chapman’s face on this swing.
Braden summed up Chapman’s expression perfectly:
“That reminds me of the at-bat in [the movie] Rookie Of The Year, end of the ballgame. ‘Just float it. Float it.’ You can see the eyeballs of that big power hitter.”
The next batter was Tony Kemp. So far in the inning Holt had thrown four eephus floaters, ranging from 30.4 to 32.6 mph. With his first offering to Kemp he suddenly changed speeds, and without ruining the surprise at all by altering any part of his glacial windup delivery. However, his 79 mph fastball was buried in the dirt for Ball 1. Still, it got another curious sound out of Braden.
Brock Holt, 34mph Eephus and 77mph Fastball, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/g9F0ZkDH3S— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 8, 2021
Two more floaters missed the zone to Kemp, at 32.7 and 33.6 mph, pushing the count to 3-0. Holt then returned to his “fastball,” and he painted the inside corner at 68.2 mph for a called strike. He tried again, and his 77 mph heater nailed the bottom of the zone for another called strike. Full count!
Holt went with another fastball on 3-2, and this was his highest velocity yet, at 82.7 mph. But it was also over the plate, pretty much right down broadway, and Kemp didn’t miss it. His hard-hit blast went 367 feet, all the way to the wall in right field, where DJ Peters jumped to make a nice catch.
On the way to the dugout, Holt offered his hat and glove to the umps, in case they wanted to do the customary check for foreign sticky substances. They appear to have declined.
Brock Holt offered to let the umps check his glove for foreign substances after throwing 31 mph pitches pic.twitter.com/S7tyew0Bez— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) August 7, 2021
This inning had no business being interesting at all. The game was functionally over, and both sides had stopped seriously competing. It lasted 10 pitches, and all three batters were ultimately retired in order despite one hit. But it arguably turned out to be the most fun part of an already wonderful game.
Every time you watch baseball, there’s a chance you’ll experience something new for the first time. We’ve seen a dozen runs before. We’ve seen position players pitch. But we’ve never seen a third baseman throw a 31 mph eephus and have it called a strike by the umpire. Brock Holt!