A deep dive into the longest at-bat in MLB history

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San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt. He, alongside Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher Jaime Barria set the MLB record for the longest at-bat in 2018, at 21 pitches. Photo courtesy of  @NBCSGiants  on Twitter

San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt. He, alongside Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher Jaime Barria set the MLB record for the longest at-bat in 2018, at 21 pitches. Photo courtesy of @NBCSGiants on Twitter

Earlier this week while I was playing MLB The Show I had a 17-pitch at-bat, which got me thinking, what is the longest at-bat in MLB history? Turns out, it was much more recent than I would have guessed.

Early in 2018, the San Francisco Giants were going up against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim.

Angles starting pitcher Jamie Barria had no idea what was about to hit him.

Let’s set the scene. 

The Giants were 8-12 heading into the game, and at this point one full season removed from their last postseason appearance, three years removed from the third of their even-year World Series wins and all-but eliminated from the playoffs when the first pitch was thrown on opening day. In 2017, they went 64-98, so that should tell you where this franchise is at.

As for the Angels, this is a team that has had nothing good going for it other than Mike Trout for about the past eight seasons. They’ve made the playoffs once in that span — 2014 — and got swept by the Royals in the ALDS. They finished 2017 80-82, so there’s hope that maybe this team can get over the hump and be a contender. At 14-7 going into the game, they were doing just that, showing that they might be competitive down the stretch (spoiler alert, they weren’t).

In the top half of the first, Giants first baseman Brandon Belt came up to the plate. 

Belt, who at this point in his career is in the beginning of his eighth season in the big leagues, isn’t by any means a star but he is a seasoned pro. A career .268/.358/.461 hitter through 2017, he’s hitting .259/.369/.519 heading into the game. An All-Star in 2016, Belt has spent every year of his career in San Francisco.

Barria is a rookie, having just made his MLB debut 11 days before versus the Texas Rangers, going five innings, striking out three and giving up just one earned run en route to a win. The struggling Giants should be a good matchup for the rookie to get some confidence early in his career.

Leadoff hitter Joe Panik reached on first after knocking a single into right, already working a respectable seven-pitch at-bat of his own. Then it was time for Belt.

The first pitch was a 92 mph fastball in the lower third of the zone, about Barria’s top-speed, that Belt fouled straight back, almost foreshadowing what was about to come.

Pitch two was another 92 mph fastball, this time well up in the zone near Belt’s shoulders, putting the count at 1-1. Catcher Martin Maldonado must have thought Panik was cheating too far off first because he jumped up and faked a throw to first, very dramatic.

Pitch three was an 80 mph breaking ball low and inside — but in the zone — that got a whiff from Belt. Now it’s 1-2, a pitchers count. Everything is working in Barria’s favor. 

Pitch four was a 91 mph fastball in the upper third of the zone but just outside, however, Belt took a hack at it and fouled it off. Barria’s got him right where he wants him now. Time for a putaway pitch.

And he threw one, an 81 mph breaker a couple of inches below the zone. He got Belt to offer at it and he was way out ahead of it, but he managed to hook it foul down the first-base line. That’s fine, it’s still a 1-2 count and Barria seems to have Belt in the palm of his hand.

Then came pitch six and he wasted one here, trying to get Belt to flail at an 83 mph changeup but it was so far low and outside that he didn’t even flinch. It’s okay though, 2-2 isn’t ideal after being ahead in the count but it’s by no means a disaster. Barria’s still got a pitch to give, Belt doesn’t.

Pitch seven and Barria leaves an 81 mph change over the heart of the plate and Belt cranks it down the first-base line but well into the stands for yet another foul ball. Still 2-2.

Pitch eight is a 92 mph heater up and in that Belt fouls off on a sort-of half swing. It wasn’t a check because he went all the way around, but it wasn’t a full power swing either. It was like Belt wanted to check it but by the time he started it was already way too late, and he’s just lucky he got a piece of it.

Time for pitch nine and this is where he makes perhaps his biggest mistake of the at-bat, leaving a fastball up high, too high for Belt to offer at it, pushing the count to 3-2. Now full, and Barria no longer has an advantage. Now he has to worry about walking Belt and putting runners on first and second with no one out to start the game.

Pitch 10. If you’re not too familiar with baseball, this is already an extremely long at-bat. Aaaaand the pitch and, just kidding, it’s a throw over to first, but Panik is back safely. Now for actual pitch 10, and it’s a 92 mph fastball just about as right down the middle as a pitch can get, but Belt fouls it back.

Pitch 11 and just kidding again, apparently Barria is very scared of Panik, someone who has averaged three stolen bases a season in his career up until this point, of taking second so he throws over yet again. Actual pitch 11 is a breaking ball inside but on the black that Belt fouls back. Sensing a theme?

Pitch 12 is an 83 mph change well below the zone, the first pitch that is really guaranteed to be ball four that Belt offered at, flaring it down the third-base line and out of play.

Pitch 13 is another 83 mph change, this time pretty much in the middle of the zone, that Belt fouls. Barria is getting noticeably annoyed at this point and the crowd is getting louder with every pitch this at-bat drags on for.

Pitch 14 is a fastball in about the same spot as the last change that Belt fouls off. The announcers and just about everyone in the stadium have both eyes on this at-bat, as this isn’t something you see every day. 

Pitch 15 is a breaking ball inside that would have sent Belt to first on a free pass, but guess what happened? He fouled it back. 

Pitch 16 and — get ready — it’s a … pickoff attempt! But Panik is safe once again. The actual outcome of pitch 16, an 82 mph change just below the zone, is a deep foul ball that had home run distance but alas, to no avail. One interesting thing about this pitch is that Belt actually took a couple of steps out of the batter’s box, the first time he’s done so to this point.

Pitch 17 is a fastball pretty much down the middle that Belt fouls back. Man, I feel like I’ve written that a dozen times by now. Actually, I’m right, I’ve written foul 12 times so far. However, that was actually foul ball No. 13, I used a variation of the word flare once, gotta mix it up.

Pitch 18 is a 93 mph fastball — Barria evidently reached back for something extra this pitch — low and inside that Belt lined into the stands for yet another foul ball.

Pitch 19 and Barria throws over to first yet again! I don’t know what he fears about Joe Panik, but it’s obviously something. Pitch 19 was actually just another deep foul ball on a 82 mph change, if you’ll believe that.

Time for pitch 20, I’ll let you write it this time. We’ll do this sort of Mad Libs style, so pick one: It’s a (fastball/changeup) that Belt hits (foul/fair). If you chose fastball and foul, you’re right!

Alright, pitch 21 and BOOM! FAIR BALL! Belt lines a 92 mph fastball into right field that is caught by Kole Calhoun for the first out of the game. After 28 pitches and two batters, Barria finally gets his first out of the game.

Barria ended up throwing 77 pitches in two-plus innings, getting pulled in the third after giving up two straight singles and a walk before recording an out. One of which was to Belt, who held his at-bat to a measly eight pitches this time.

21 pitches a long inning, much less one singular at-bat. No other at-bat that entire game reached double-digit pitches. In fact, just one reached nine — Brandon Belt versus Blake Parker in the top of the fifth, and this time Belt got all of it, smacking a homer to right.

Who knew one random game in the middle of April between two teams that would finish the season under .500 would produce history?

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Jorge Eckardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at Jorge.eckardt@uconn.edu. He tweets @jorge_eckardt31.

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