Even the best pitchers need a certain amount of luck. Pitchers can have good outings turn into bad outings and bad outings turn into good outings based on how the ball bounces or what the defenders do behind him or how consistent the umpires strike zone is. Sometimes, a good outing can turn into a nightmare, as was the case with Jameson Taillon on Monday.
Giving up six unearned runs in an inning isn’t unheard of, in 1912, Allan Travers gave up 8 unearned runs in the fifth inning of a game where he gave up 24 unearned runs. Pitchers get hosed all the time, but the box score doesn’t do the cosmic injustice Taillon suffered justice.
Taillon’s second began auspiciously enough. It looked like he’d retire the side in order when the third batter of the inning, Daniel Descalso, topped a soft grounder to shortstop Kevin Newman. Newman was pulled over to the right side of second, and he had a short throw. Newman, though, slung the ball into the camera well on the first base side. It should have ended the inning, but defenders are allowed to commit an error every once in a while. It happens.
The Pirates intentionally walked Jason Heyward to get to Jon Lester. The real tragedy here wasn’t that Taillon was suddenly in trouble of allowing a run to score. It’s that the error cost Taillon the opportunity to start the next inning with the bottom of the order.
But then Jon Lester, who has a career wRC+ of -27, roped a double into the gap and Ben Zobrist sent a seeing-eye grounder just out of reach of Kevin Newman, who lost an opportunity to redeem himself.
Taillon then grazed Kris Bryant with a fastball to put runners on first and second for Anthony Rizzo. What happened next was hard to watch regardless of the context. Taillon took a 102 mph line drive off his head. Somehow, he stayed on his feet, and remained in the game.
That he hadn’t shown much outward frustration until that point is commendable enough, but the poise needed to take a line drive off the head and continue working is off the charts. That’s not even the first time he’s done that either. In 2016, he was struck with a line drive in a game against the Brewers and continued to pitch in that game as well.
If the baseball gods were kind, Taillon would have been rewarded for his perseverance, but the baseball gods merciless. Taillon got Javier Báez to an 0-2 count and did exactly what you’re supposed to do to Báez in that situation, he threw a pitch in the dirt and got Báez to chase.
I would say that Báez took an ugly swing, but I’m hesitant to even call it a swing. He literally threw his at the ball (which had already hit the ground!) and it blooped over shortstop Kevin Newman’s head. If you haven’t yet, you have to watch this play with sound on to fully appreciate the ‘doink’ hit Báez managed.
The “crack” of the bat was the thing that first cued me into the game. I had it on in the background, but I wasn’t paying close attention to what was happening. When I heard the sound the bat made, I had to stop what I was doing and investigate what the hell happened.
The cliché goes that you’re supposed to see something you’ve never seen before in every baseball game, but I have never heard a bat make that noise when coming in contact with a pitch.
There’s getting BABIP’d to death and then there’s a guy throwing a bat at a pitch that bounced and knocking in the fifth unearned run of the inning. Not to mention he had also been drilled in the head with a comebacker or that there were two outs with nobody on when this all started.
It was another play that was just out of reach for Newman, but he’d get a final opportunity to end this nightmare inning. This five-run rally began when Newman couldn’t make a play to make the third and final out, but it would end when he got an easy grounder.
Aw come on, man. Newman throwing the ball away, capped a three-error inning for him.
Mercifully for the Pirates, these innings happen very infrequently, maybe once every few years. Either way, what a way to lose.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.