Baseball

MLB’s 20 most mind-blowing hitting, pitching feats of 2023 — with Kyle Schwarber leading off

It’s the most wonderful time of the year … except for one thing:

It’s no longer baseball season!

But that’s where we come in. It’s our not-so-solemn duty to get you through these long, chilly, baseball-free months by helping you relive the best of the Strange But True baseball season of 2023. Don’t tell us you already forgot that …

An unforgettable on-base streak ended even though the man who compiled that streak was standing on first base. … And we really did see a real human being steal third base and home on the same pitch. … And a team pitched a no-hitter despite the minor hindrance of also allowing seven runs — in the same inning!

We’re not making any of that up. We spend the whole year keeping track of wacky stuff like this so you don’t have to. So join us now as we relive The Strange But True Feats of 2023 … in five parts. Today’s installment: the hitters … the pitchers … and that Shohei guy who apparently does both of the above!

The Strangest But Truest Hitter of 2023: The Schwarbino


Kyle Schwarber had 47 homers and 48 singles on the season. (Eric Hartline / USA Today)

“Can you do me a favor?” Kyle Schwarber asked us one day in late September, though not totally seriously. “Can you write a story that tells people I actually had a good year?”

Sure. Why the heck not? It can be hard to know what to make of a leadoff hitter who finished the season hitting .197 with 215 strikeouts. So allow the Strange But True Feats of the Year column to help with that. It beats calculating those December wind-chill factors.

He’s the most unique leadoff monster of all time! Does it seem kinda Strange But True to see a team look at a .197 hitter who leads the league in strikeouts and decide: “Here’s a good way to win the World Series. Let’s have that guy lead off?”

Well, that’s what the Phillies did with the Schwarbino. On one hand, it allowed him to become the first man in the modern era to roll up at least 500 leadoff plate appearances in a season in which his average never made it to the Mendoza Line. (Previous record for lowest full-season average: .211, by Eddie “Sparky” Lake, for the 1947 Tigers.)

But wait. On the other hand, after the Phillies moved Schwarber into that leadoff spot to stay on June 2, they went 65-41 in games in which he led off. Which means they played like a 99-win team when he occupied the top slot in their lineup. So whatever. That worked! Here’s a perfect Strange But True example of how …

He was a leadoff earthquake waiting to happen! For 108 games in 2023, Schwarber was the first Phillies hitter to step into the box. He got a hit to lead off exactly 21 of those games. He hit a single to lead off only six of those games. So you think that was a problem?

Um, not so much. His OPS leading off games still wound up at 1.056. Does that sound good? It should, since it was merely the highest OPS, as the first batter of the game, in the history of a franchise that has been around since 1883 … because, apparently, all those leadoff walks (21) and leadoff Schwarbombs (11) can also be helpful. Which reminds us: If we just talk about his whiffs and his average, we’re leaving out some stuff!

He was also Ruthian! You know what else apparently can be helpful? Piling up massive amounts of homers (47), RBIs (104), runs scored (108) and walks (126). You know who has had that season? Oh, only Babe Ruth (six times), Mark McGwire (twice), Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Barry Bonds and Aaron Judge (once). And also …

Kyle Schwarber.

Which meant even more all-time Strange But True stuff was possible. Such as …

He was pretty much as productive as a guy who hit .306! Let the record show that, according to Baseball Reference, Schwarber finished with an OPS+ of 122. And how Strange But True is it for a guy who batted .197 to have an OPS that was still 22 percent better than league average? Well, it’s the highest OPS+ in history by a qualifying hitter whose average started with a “1.” So there’s that. But there’s also this:

Bo Bichette in 2023 — .306 AVG, 123 OPS+
Schwarber in 2023 — .197 AVG, 122 OPS+

How can that be possible? Excellent question. I’m not in charge of OPS+ calculations, but I’m guessing it has something to do with this: The guy who hit .197, amazingly, had a higher on-base percentage (.343) than the guy who hit .306 (.339)! That can happen when one guy draws 99 more walks than the other guy. But nevertheless, here come more Schwarbarian shockers. …

He hit .197 … and still led his team in runs scored! Does that seem hard to do? You should answer yes, because here’s the complete list of players since 1900 who have done that, on any team, with an average below .200, over any full season:

Kyle Schwarber, 2023 Phillies
List ends here — but not this list …

He had 100 more whiffs (215) than hits (115) … but still led his team in runs scored! You’ll love the rundown of all the special offensive forces who have ever finished a season with at least 100 more strikeouts than hits:

Adam Dunn (twice) … Joey Gallo (three times) … Chris Davis (2018) … and Schwarber (2023). What. A. Group. But … how many of those legendary whiffers also had 108 runs scored or led their team in runs (or both)? Here’s that complete list:

Kyle Schwarber, 2023 Phillies
List ends here

Stay out of the WAR Zone — Not surprisingly, Schwarber says even his teammates had all kinds of fun messing with him over his wacky stat line.

“There was a time,” he recalled fondly, “at some point this year, that I was a negative WAR player. So we were all laughing about that.”

Hey, his good news was that, by season’s end, he did in fact climb out of that negative-WAR zone. The bad news was, thanks to glovemanship issues that the WAR gods couldn’t ignore, he climbed to a final figure of only 0.6 WAR. Which meant …

Was it really possible for a man to mash 47 homers and surpass 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored, yet still be worth less than one win above replacement? Eh, we guess so. But had it ever appeared possible before? That would be no.

Incredibly, the only previous, similar monster season to lead to a WAR number under 3.0 was produced by another Phillies masher of some renown — Ryan Howard, in 2008. Somehow, the Baseball Reference WAR room looked at that Howard season — which included a staggering 48 homers, 146 RBIs and 105 runs — and calculated that to be worth just 1.8 WAR. Clearly, WAR can be confusing like that sometimes.

So in the end, did Kyle Schwarber care about his average or his whiffs or his WAR? Nope!

“I mean, did I picture myself doing this, hitting what I’m hitting? No,” he said. “I’m the first to tell you it’s all kind of interesting. … But you know what? At the end of the day, for me, if we’re getting a win, I’m happy.”

Our favorite Strange But True Ohtani-isms of 2023


What can’t he do? Will Ohtani play quarterback next? (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

It’s almost a reflex action to start every Strange But True column with the regularly scheduled Shohei Ohtani highlight reel. But since you’ve been treated to, like, 988 other Ohtani stories in the past week and a half, we’ll let him hit second in this lineup.

Oh, and also: We’ve already dug deep into the wildness and weirdness of that $700 million contract … and compared him to Mookie Betts/Gerrit Cole … and reminded you how many consecutive hits he’d have to give up before his career batting average would drop below the average of Unhappy Hitters Who Have to Face Ohtani. So no need to do that again.

Which means we can just use this space to shake our heads again over our favorite Strange But True Ohtani moments from 2023. Ready? So … on with the Shoh.

He never stopped making Tungsten Arm O’Doyle jokes possible — Do we need to re-tell, for the final time, the origin of the hilarious saga of Ohtani/Tungsten Arm O’Doyle? OK, we’ll make it quick. It began two years ago, with this then-innocent tweet.

Now, 2 trillion references later, Tungsten Arm O’Doyle can go down as one of the 21st century’s greatest fictitious legends. And Ohtani now can go up the freeway to Chavez Ravine to leave him in the dust. But in 2023, his last season in Orange County, the Angels kept Tungsten Arm on all of our radar screens, with stuff like this:

• Opening day — Ohtani the pitcher: six shutout innings, 10 strikeouts. Ohtani the hitter: reaches base twice. Tungsten Arm subplot: Angels still lose, 2-1, because … Tungsten!

• Aug. 18 — Ohtani the slammer: Hits a single in the first inning and whomps a grand slam an inning after that. Ohtani the teammate: Watches his team turn its first triple play since 1997 to keep this game tied in the ninth. Tungsten Arm subplot: Angels get an Ohtani slam and a game-saving triple play … and still lose to the Rays, 9-6, because … see above.

• Sept. 3 — Ohtani the track star: Steals his 20th base of the season, in what turned out to be the final time he reached base this year. Ohtani the historian: Becomes the first man in National League/American League history to join the 20-Steal/10-Win Club since the unforgettable Adonis Terry did it for the 1890 Brooklyn Bridegrooms. Tungsten Arm subplot: Angels still lose, 10-6, to an Oakland team that was 54 games under .500, because, clearly, this was their final chance to get Tungsten Arm O’Doyle into the fake headlines … so the baseball gods demanded they make it count.

Ohtani, the tri-cyclist — Back on May 9, 1918, someone named Babe Ruth went 5-for-5, with a triple, a single and three doubles, while pitching into extra innings before finally losing to Walter Johnson. The Babe never had another game with a single, double, triple and any pitches thrown. But on April 27, Ohtani had a game like that, in a win over Oakland. Here’s why we mention it:

He was the first pitcher with a single, double and triple in any kind of game in 36 years (since Danny Darwin did it in 1987) — and only the third in the past six decades. You know who didn’t have any games with a single and double and triple this year, despite the fact that they weren’t distracted by having to throw a single pitch? Oh, only Ronald Acuña Jr., Mookie Betts, Julio Rodríguez, Bobby Witt Jr. and about 1,000 other guys who otherwise appear seriously multi-talented.

Ohtani, the box-score filler-upper — Then there was June 27. Ohtani the pitcher: Faces 24 White Sox and strikes out 10 of them. Ohtani the hitter: Takes three swings all night … and gets three hits, two of them homers.

Here, at no extra charge, is your handy-dandy list of dudes in the division-play era with a double-digit strikeout game and a multi-homer eruption in the same game: Rick Wise (1971), Madison Bumgarner (2017), Zack Greinke (2019) and … Ohtani.

Ohtani, the 493-foot delivery man — Then, three days after that two-homer, 10-K game, a man who had a better strikeout ratio than Gerrit Cole this year launched a home run that was projected by Statcast at 493 feet, but actually, according to NASA scientists we just made up, reached Earth’s orbit. Don’t believe us? You can watch it! (And you should.)

Ohtani, the all-time twin-bill king — Finally, what do you say we salute the greatest doubleheader performance in baseball history (as declared by Strange But True World HQ, acclaimed as the ultimate authority on this subject, as of two sentences ago)?

July 27 in Detroit. Ohtani the pitcher: Throws a one-hit shutout in Game 1 of this doubleheader. Ohtani the hitter: Mashes two home runs in Game 2 of this doubleheader.

Question from those of us who write Strange But True Feats of the Year columns: Who the heck does this? Who the heck has ever done this?

The answer, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (via MLB.com’s resident Ohtani historian, Sarah Langs): That would be nobody, of course. How many men have ever thrown any kind of shutout in one game of a doubleheader and hit even one homer in the other game of a doubleheader? One man — named Shohei.

But a one-hit shutout in Game 1 and two home runs in Game 2? That’s not something you would expect to see in the major leagues. That’s out of the Marvel Superhero League.

Special bonus note from Langs: The last human before Ohtani who twirled a shutout in one game of a doubleheader and then started at any other position in the other game? George H. (Bambino) Ruth, on July 17, 1918. But no home runs for the Bambino that day!

Christmas special Strange But True Ohtani video treat — What can’t Shohei Ohtani do? If you watch this video, it’ll be obvious that the answer is: Not a freaking thing.

Our 10 favorite Strange But True Hitting Feats of 2023


No fooling: Trayce Thompson had a day on April 1, but then what happened? (Jonathan Hui / USA Today)

WITHOUT A TRAYCE — Just as we all expected, the first three-homer game of 2023 didn’t come rocketing off the bat of Aaron Judge or Matt Olson. Instead, it was the work of the Dodgers’ Trayce Thompson, a man whose brother (Klay) is slightly more famous for his 3-pointers than he is.

Nevertheless, in his first start of the season, on April 1, Trayce became the first Dodger in history to stuff a grand slam, three-run homer and solo homer into the same box score … and then … to make sure columns like this remain in business … that same guy went 40 days between hits (April 19 to May 30) … batted .148 over the rest of the season … and hit as many big-league home runs over the next six months as he hit that one day … because baseball!

THEIR SECOND FIRST ACT — In an April 13 visit to Yankee Stadium, the Twins just might have fired off the Strangest But Truest back-to-back homers ever. You know what their Nos. 1-2 hitters, Edouard Julien and Carlos Correa, did that day? They went back-to-back in the first inning. But that’s not the Strange But True part … because that has happened before.

You know what had never happened before? That would be a team’s 1-2 hitters going back-to-back in the first inning … but not to lead off the game. Turns out it’s helpful to feats like this if their teammates work a convenient little nine-run first-inning bat-around into their busy schedule. Whaddaya know.

FEEL THE PINCH — In baseball, as in life, it’s never just about how it starts. It’s about what happens when you enter the game. For more proof of that profound, age-old saying, which the great philosophers have been sharing since, oh, about half a paragraph ago, you should look at the 2023 stories of Elias Díaz and Andrew Knizner.

• Elias Díaz is a catcher for the Rockies. He turned 33 years old last month. And since the rules required somebody on the Rockies to be an All-Star, that somebody was him.

Remember his huge All-Star moment? How ’bout a game-winning, lead-flipping pinch home run to hand the NL the All-Star game. Awesome. But here comes the Strange But True part:

Pinch-hit All-Star home runs — one … in one swing.

Pinch-hit regular-season home runs … in 15 pro seasons, nine big-league seasons and 2,166 trips to the plate — zero!

Timing truly is everything.

• Andrew Knizner has spent most of his five-year big-league career as Yadi Molina’s backup catcher in St. Louis. But on May 17, quite the Strange But True plot line busted out. One minute, he was pinch running for Paul Goldschmidt (look it up!) in the eighth inning of a 9-1 game. Next minute, the Cardinals were batting around … and then this happened.

What you just saw was A Man With No Position smoking a grand slam. And only two other players in the past 65 seasons have done that. One was Rajai Davis in 2008. The other (Gene Stephens) did it in 1959 after pinch running for Ted Williams. But that isn’t even the Strange But True part.

The Strange But True part was that Andrew Knizner, a man who has never hit a slam while actually playing a position, hit this slam off Mike Brosseau, who doesn’t normally give those up because he’s an infielder. Which means … a guy with no position pounded a grand slam off a position player. And if you’re not more grateful than ever now for these Strange But True Feats of the Year columns, I don’t know how you made it this far into this one.

PLEASE IGNORE THE VIDEO EVIDENCE — A classic Strange But True thing happened to Padres shortstop Xander Bogaerts on May 3: His career-high 30-game on-base streak was broken despite the weird technicality that he was standing on first base when it ended.

Geez, it sure wasn’t his fault. He hit what looked like a single to right field. It wasn’t caught in the air by an outfielder, just like most hits. But unfortunately for him, the most confused man in San Diego happened to be his teammate Juan Soto. … Who missed the part where the baseball bounced … and hustled back to first base … where he found Bogaerts wasn’t as happy as usual to see him.

And that’s how a man who was standing on a base saw his on-base streak disappear, right before his eyes. However many times Bogaerts wondered in 2023 why he ever left Boston, we’re guessing that was one of them!

NICKEL BACKS — Is Five Hit Fever something a guy could catch just hanging around the batting cage? We ask because Marlins hit machine Luis Arraez definitely caught it this June. How Strange But True is this:

Arraez in June: three five-hit games in 16 days.

Miguel Cabrera in his 21-year career: two five-hit games in 2,797 games.

Strange but 100 percent true.

But we also asked about Five Hit Fever because of …

The Angels: They mysteriously went five years — despite employing Mike Trout and Ohtani for all five of them — without having any stinking hitter on the roster figure out how to get five hits in a game … until Hunter Renfroe finally unfurled their first quintuple since 2018 in a June 24 blowout of the Rockies. How even? But wait, Here comes the …

Strange But True Epilogue: So how long after that would it take for an Angel — any Angel — to deliver their next five-hit game? It was quite the wait … of two batters … until Mickey Moniak got his fifth hit of the day in that same inning. Because … Five Hit Fever! Catch it.

THE WILD BLUE YAN-DER — If you’re familiar with the work of Cubs catcher Yan Gomes, you’re probably aware he’ll never be confused with Usain Bolt, let alone Dee Strange-Gordon. But in the Strange But True world we live in, anything is possible, even for a man who ranked 449th in the majors this year in average “sprint” speed.

So naturally, on July 20, at age 36, Gomes did something no catcher his age (or older) had done in the past 95 years: He hit two triples in one game! But that’s not all, because he actually hit triples in two plate appearances in a row. Now here are two reasons we might be interested in something like that:

1) How many other catchers hit two triples in a game not just this year, but the year before that … and the year before that … and the year before that? Anybody out there guess none? Excellent guess!

2) How many triples has Gomes hit on any of the 201 other days he has been allowed to play baseball by the Cubs over these past two seasons? That, too, would be none … in 708 trips to the plate.

But in the middle of all that, this same guy smacked a triple in two at-bats in a row? C’mon. How can you not love the total random wackiness of …

Baseball!


Reds rookie sensation Elly De La Cruz wasted no time in providing Strange But True material. (Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)

IT’S ALL CYCLICAL — We could have worked the Reds’ human tool kit, Elly De La Cruz, into this column about 12 different ways. Did you know he hit a baseball this year harder (119.2 mph) than any ball hit by Aaron Judge? That seems like a cool thing to do for the fastest dude on the field.

But that’s not even what De La Cruz is doing in this sentence you’re currently reading. Nope. How about this:

On June 23, he hit for the cycle — in the 15th game of his career.

On July 8, he stole for the cycle — by stealing second, third and home in the same inning.

And even though stealing for the cycle is a thing we just invented, it’s still a thing you need to be in awe of, if only because he also stole third and home on the same pitch.

Last Red to steal for the cycle — Greasy Neale, in 1919!

Last Red to hit for the cycle — Eric Davis, in 1989, which meant all the other teams had fit 110 cycles in between Reds’ cycles!

Players in the live-ball era to do both 15 days apart (or quicker) — Elly De La Cruz … and that’ll do it for that list.

Other players in the past 98 seasons who did both in the same year — Exactly one, and it was … um … Wil Myers? He did it in 2017. But that, in this case, is not the Strange But True part.

Because you know what else happened the day De La Cruz hit for the cycle and started all this? The Reds released a guy named … Wil Myers!

VLAD YOU STOPPED BY — Don’t ask us how Vlad Guerrero Jr. didn’t make this column just for fielding a groundball in May, getting the baseball stuck in the webbing and then flipping the whole glove to the pitcher for an out that proved, once again, your glove will not let you down. Except that wasn’t even his Strangest But Truest feat of that week.

For his greatest Strange But True classic, we take you to May 23 in Tampa Bay, when one of the goofiest games of the season busted out … in large part thanks to Vlad.

Ever heard of a team scoring nine runs in one inning — all against position players masquerading as pitchers? That. Really. Happened. In the ninth inning of that game. For the first time in the history of this sport.

And the “pitcher” who was responsible for most of that carnage was Rays first baseman Luke Raley. But in the midst of all those rockets Raley was serving up, he at least shared this nutty little moment with the fearsome Vlad Guerrero Jr., right after taking the mound in the eighth.

So Vladdy could have made the Strange But True Feats of the Year just for that, except … have we mentioned there was a nine-run ninth inning in this game? … So what were the odds of the Jays’ lineup turning and turning and turning … until here came Vlad to bat again in the ninth inning … only to find Raley still pitching, with the bases loaded? Want to guess what happened in the rematch? Yeah, it did.

Does it get much Stranger But Truer than a guy striking out and mashing a slam in the same game against the same position player? That would be hard seeing how it had never, ever happened … until Guerrero showed up at home plate.

SUSPENDED ANIMATION — What’s even stranger (but truer) than a Mookie Betts 5-for-5 game? How about a suspended Mookie Betts 5-for-5 game!

That’s a thing that happened during the Dodgers’ August visit to Cleveland. And here’s the part that propelled it into this column:

Aug. 23 — Mookie goes 2-for-2 (with two singles) before half a billion raindrops cause a slight intermission in his hot streak.

Aug. 24 — Mookie gets three more hits (single, single, double) after the game finally resumes.

All right, now here’s what makes that a Strange But True all-timer: For the rest of time, history will try to convince us that Mookie had a five-hit game on Wednesday the 23rd … even though many human witnesses exist who could tell you that three of those hits actually met the bat on the “wrong” day (Thursday the 24th).

So how Strange But True was that? So strange that, according to our friends from STATS Perform, only one other player since 1901 has ever gotten five hits or more in a suspended game … with more than half of them coming on the “wrong” day. But the other (Tom Paciorek) did it in a 26-inning game (on May 8-9, 1984). Which would be 17 more innings than it took Mookie Betts — our official Strange But True Time Traveler of 2023.


Ozzie Albies and the Braves did a number on the Mets on Aug. 12. (Brad Penner / USA Today)

WE’VE GOT YOUR NUMBER — The Braves’ whole season could have made this list, because in case you missed it, they somehow had a higher slugging percentage as a team (.501) than bashers like Bryce Harper (.499), Rafael Devers (.500) and José Ramírez (.478) had by themselves. But instead, we’re going to zone in on Aug. 12, our favorite Braves Strange But True day of the year.

They scored 21 runs in Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Mets that day. But that wasn’t the Strange But True part. The Strange But True part was how they divvied up those 21 runs. By which we mean they had …

One guy with one RBI (Ronald Acuña Jr.).

Another with two RBIs (Sean Murphy).

Another with three RBIs (Austin Riley).

Another with four RBIs (Matt Olson).

Another with five RBIs (Nicky Lopez).

And yet another with six RBIs (Ozzie Albies).

Which meant everyone else who played had no RBIs. And that caused way too many of you to say to yourselves: Hmmm, could that ever have happened? And also: You know who we should ask? The Strange But True column!

So we reached out to the great Katie Sharp of Baseball Reference to look into that very question. On one hand, she did find one team that ran off that 1-2-3-4-5-6 RBI box-score trick. On the other hand, that team was Kiki Cuyler’s 1925 Pirates (against St. Louis on June 22, 1925). Which means it happened as recently as 98 years ago.

But wait. That team actually had two players with two RBIs and two players with one RBI. So you know what that means? It means that, since RBIs became an official stat in 1920, this Braves game was the first time in history that six hitters on one team went 1-2-3-4-5-6 in the RBI column … while nobody else on their team was driving in any runs. And that, for all of you who played 1-2-3-4-5-6 in the Powerball that night, is why we love …

Baseball!

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Are the Braves the greatest offense in baseball history? They’re making quite a case

Our 10 favorite Strange But True Pitching Feats of 2023


Adam Wainwright tips his cap to the St. Louis crowd on the night of his 200th victory. (Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

FOUNTAINS OF WAINO — We’ll miss Adam Wainwright. This is, after all, a column dedicated to mixing fun with all the beauties of baseball. And we can’t think of any player, over the past two decades, who got that concept any better than the Cardinals’ curveball king.

So what was more perfectly Strange But True than the 200th and final win of Wainwright’s wonderful career? Here’s what made it the kind of game Strange But True Feats of the Year columns latch onto:

He spun seven shutout innings — for his only scoreless start of the year.

He won this game, 1-0 — for his first 1-0 win in nine years.

His catcher, Willson Contreras, hit a home run to drive in the only run — the first time he’d ever done that as a Cardinal. But now let’s keep going, because we’ve barely scratched the surface of the Strange But Trueness.

• Back on Opening Day of the 2014 season, Wainwright won the 100th game of his career. He went seven shutout innings in that game, too. But hold on. There’s more.

• How do you think the only run scored in that 100th win? Would you believe on a home run by his catcher, Yadi Molina? Yep, the same way he won No. 200.

• But wait. There’s still more. How many other pitchers in history have ever won their 200th game 1-0 on a home run by their catcher? Right. That would be none.

• And how many other 1-0 games in Wainwright’s career did he win on any kind of RBI by his catcher? Right. That would also be none.

Baseball. It’s the best.

NUMBER SCRUNCHING — In baseball, we love big numbers. But here at Strange But True World HQ, we also love little numbers. The littler the better, in fact. So here’s a toast to these tiny numbers from 2023.

1 — Does it seem impossible for a pitcher to record a one-pitch strikeout? Ha. Are you familiar with the weirdness of baseball? All it took for Phillies reliever Jeff Hoffman to pull that off, back on July 28, was about three trillion raindrops in Pittsburgh. Then he marched in after a rain delay, inherited a 1-2 count on Jared Triolo, got him to swing through a slider and voila!

3 — Do first innings get any neater or cleaner than the three pitches it took Giants starter Anthony DeSclafani to zip through his first inning on May 28 against the Pirates? Wait. Don’t answer that too swiftly.

Three pitches. Three outs. But also … one extra-base hit (by Tucupita Marcano, on the first pitch of the game). Luckily, the next two pitches went: Line-drive out … fly-ball double play. The most baseball thing ever.

0 — Finally, hard as we’ve been trying not to pick on the Mets in this column, it doesn’t get much Stranger Than Truer than a walk-off balk, issued by a pitcher (Josh Walker) who threw zero pitches. But that was the Mets season in glorious micro-Met-rocosm.

Here’s that deal. Walker rolls in to relieve Grant Hartwig in an Aug. 1 tilt with the Royals. Tie game. Two outs in the 10th. Leans in for the sign. His PitchCom glitches out. And … oh no!

We’ve been keeping track of pitch counts for the past 36 seasons. In the 80,000 games or so in those 36 seasons, only one other pitcher has ever managed a no-pitch “balk-off” to end any game: Mike Stanton, for the Nationals, on July 15, 2005. But whatever it took in 2023, it felt as though the Mets were gonna find a way to Met!

CRAZY EIGHTS — Who had a Stranger But Truer 2023 than Lucas Giolito? It was wacky enough that he ping-ponged from the White Sox to the Angels to the Guardians in a mere 36 days. But that wasn’t even the Strange But True part.

The Strange But True part was he found a way to allow at least eight runs in a game for all three of those teams. The “good news” for Giolito: He was not the only guy ever to do that for three different teams. But the bad news was, the last pitcher to do it was Bill McGee … in 1899!

DOMINGO’S PERFECT STORM — If baseball made any sense, all perfect games would be thrown by true aces. So if Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw are ever in the mood to go 27-up, 27-down some day, we’re cool with that. We’d even sign off on occasional guest perfectos by Corbin Burnes and Max Scherzer — because at least we could understand how that’s possible.

Instead, we are continually reminded that baseball makes no sense. And could there be any more proof than this: The only perfect game of the past decade was authored this season by world-famous non-ace Domingo Germán of the Yankees. And can we all agree that’s just ridiculous?

Six days before Germán’s perfecto (June 22 versus Seattle) — He faces 23 hitters, gives up 10 runs, gets only 10 outs and never even retires three in a row! (The attractive box-score line: 3 1/3 IP — 8 H, 10 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 pitches to get 10 outs!)

Six days later (June 28 at Oakland) — The same human faces 27 hitters, gets all 27 of them out! (The much more presentable line: 9-0-0-0-0-9, 97 pitches to get 27 outs!)

We were so befuddled by this, how could we not ask our friends from STATS if it was as illogical and unprecedented as we suspected? The answer: Well, you could probably guess the answer.

This was baseball’s 20th perfect game since 1909. There was one slight difference between German’s gem and the other 19: He was the only one who faced at least 23 hitters in the previous start and never once retired three in a row … because of course he was!


Michael Lorenzen celebrates the no-hitter with his Phillies teammates.  (Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)

THE LORENZEN EXPRESS — At least Domingo Germán didn’t throw any other no-hitters this year … but Michael Lorenzen did … because why the heck not! He was traded by the Tigers to the Phillies on Aug. 1. He no-hit the Nationals eight days later.

No need to mention that after the no-hitter, his ERA over the final two months was 8.01. Doesn’t matter. He no-hit his way right into the Strange But True Feats of the Year column. Here’s why:

Steve Carlton — spent 15 years pitching for the Phillies, won three Cy Young awards, led all left-handers in baseball in WAR over those 15 seasons, made the Hall of Fame … and pitched zero no-hitters.

Michael Lorenzen — had spent eight days as a Phillie, had never thrown a pitch for the Phillies in Philadelphia before that night, was out of the rotation five weeks later … but has achieved trivia immortality as the answer to a version of this question: Who’s the only Phillie to pitch a no-hitter in Philadelphia since Roy Halladay?

Wow. Baseball. Is it amazing, or what?

DREAM WEAVER — You should know that Luke Weaver did not throw any no-hitters for the Reds this year (or for his other two teams — the Mariners and Yankees — either). But he, too, did exemplary work in proving our recurring thesis about baseball: It. Makes. No. Sense.

On one handFrom May 31 to July 8, Weaver made eight starts for the Reds. You decide how that went.

• His ERA: 8.66

Slash line of hitters he faced: .342/.392/.613

• What that means: He basically turned the entire league into 2012 Miguel Cabrera (who hit .330/.393/.606 that year).

So that was a disaster, huh? Um, don’t answer yet, because …

On the other hand … how’d the Reds make out in those eight starts? Would you believe …

They went 8-0!

You’d think we were making that up, right? And then you’d remember … this is the Strange But True Feats of the Year column!

BOX-SCORE CORNER — You don’t need us to point out that certain trips to the mound are Strange But True material. You just need to consult the box scores. They tell you all you need to know about games like this …

Ben Lively, Aug. 1 at WrigleyIn the Cubs’ 20-9 thrashing of the Reds, Lively was more like Ben Deadly:

4 IP, 13 H, 13 R, 13 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 4 HR, 1 HBP, 94 pitches to get 12 outs!

So what’s up with that? You know how hard it is to give up 13 hits and 13 earned runs but not even get 12 outs? Nobody had done that since Les (not a McDonald’s entrée) McCrabb … on April 16, 1942! … But you know how much harder it is to give up 13 earned runs and four homers? So hard that, since earned runs became an official stat more than a century ago, just one pitcher has done that. His name: Ben Lively.

Luis Cessa, April 16 versus the PhilliesWe’re not sure how this column turned into a Reds Rotation’s Greatest Hits collection. But it wouldn’t have been possible to compile these Strange But True Pitching Feats of the year without this sparkling start by Cessa:

3 IP, 14 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 1 HR, 1 HBP, 1 WP, 88 pitches to get nine outs.

So what’s up with that? Before we could even look this up, loyal reader Allan Wood beat us to it. You know how many pitchers since 1900 have given up that many runs and that many hits but not even gotten 10 outs? Just one. Right … Luis Cessa.

Josh Fleming, May 28 versus the Dodgers — Meanwhile, in non-Reds box-score developments, Fleming’s final start of the year for the Rays was a classic in more ways than one:

6 IP, 12 H, 10 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 3 K … and 5 HR!

So what’s up with that? Ha. Trick question. You won’t believe it. Yes, this man gave up 12 hits, 10 runs and five looonnnggg balls — but it was all worth it. Not just because he saved the bullpen, but also because … his team won (11-10)! He’s the first pitcher to get bruised for that many runs, hits and homers in a game his team won since the legendary Dodger, Ralph Branca, was allowed to stick around for all nine innings in a scenic 17-10 game in Pittsburgh on June 25, 1949.


Chase Anderson gave up an unlucky 13 runs to the Angels in an infamous third inning. (John Leyba / USA Today)

CUT TO THE CHASE — Every trip to the mound at Coors Field is an opportunity, all right — an opportunity to wind up in the Strange But True Feats of the Year column. So congratulations to Chase Anderson, for doing his part in a messy little 25-1 loss to the Angels on June 24.

Here is how he kicked off a fun little 13-run third inning that day:

First pitch — Mike Trout home run.

Second pitch — Brandon Drury home run.

Third pitch — Matt Thaiss home run.

That’s three pitches, three home runs. And you don’t see that much. In fact, home runs on three pitches in a row, at any point in any inning, is a thing that’s happened only one other time to any active pitcher … and it was the same pitcher.

No kidding. Back on Sept. 17, 2020, when Anderson was a Blue Jay, he served up three in a row to the Yankees in the fourth inning. And that would make no sense at all, except it’s …

Baseball!

NO-HIT PANDA-MONIUM — We don’t ordinarily take these Strange But True expeditions into the wilds of the minor leagues. But we’re making an exception here for the beloved Rocket City Trash Pandas, of the always-entertaining Double-A Southern League, because …

The good news: On April 9, the Trash Pandas did one of those things that are supposed to feel like a dream come true — by throwing a no-hitter, in an all-time minor-league classic, against Chattanooga. But now comes …

The not quite as good as that news: They managed to throw that no-hitter and lose, which doesn’t happen much, even in the Southern League. And that isn’t even the Strange But True part, because you should definitely read on to …

The not even as good as that last thing news: They pulled off the rarified feat of throwing a no-hitter … and allowing seven runs … but also … allowing all seven of those runs in the same inning.

How Strange But True is it to give up seven runs in a no-hitter? Oh, you know. No big-league team has ever done it. And the only other time it’s known to have happened in the minor leagues was Aug. 31, 1948, in the late, great Pony League, when Louis Blackmore of the Wellsville Red Sox did it in a game in which there wasn’t much need for anybody to get a hit … since he also sprinkled in 17 walks that day!

So is that how the Trash Pandas did it? Eh, not exactly. Their attractive seven-run inning … in the middle of a no-hitter, remember … went like this:

Walk … walk … infield-fly rule popup (one out) … walk … strikeout (two outs) … walk (one run) … three-run error on the center fielder (four runs – oops!) … new pitcher … hit-by-pitch … hit-by-pitch … hit-by-pitch (five runs) … walk (six runs) … run-scoring wild pitch (seven runs) … hit-by-pitch … strikeout (three outs).

So what are the odds of giving up seven runs in a no-hitter, no matter how many innings it takes? This took some math. But here goes …

In the last 105 big-league games in which a team gave up no hits, you know how many runs those 105 teams gave up? That would be six — in all 105 of those games combined! But somehow, the Trash Pandas gave up seven … in one inning. And if you’ve never seen anything like that, we can help with that too!

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Weird & Wild: Marveling at the Trash Pandas’ no-hitter loss and the Rays’ winning streak

THE GHOST OF HARVEY HADDIX — But the Milwaukee Brewers don’t need to check in with any Trash Pandas to know that throwing a no-hitter can be overrated. They lived it Sept. 10 — in one of the Strangest But Truest games of any year.

For nine innings that day, Corbin Burnes and Devin Williams no-hit the Yankees in the Bronx. Then reliever Abner Uribe stomped out of the bullpen and made it 10 hitless innings. If the Brewers had just remembered to score a run or 12 in those 10 innings, they’d have had a way better time.

Instead, this game kept going — through the 11th inning, through the 12th inning, into the 13th inning — during which … the Yankees went from getting no hits in any inning to getting at least one hit … and scoring … in every inning, from the 11th through the 13th, because … it’s baseball … and … it makes no sense.

So on a day when the Brewers gave up no hits for 10 innings, they still lost, 4-3. And how Strange But True was that? You’ve come to the right place.

On one hand … teams that spin off nine hitless innings tend to win a lot. In the division-play era (1969-2023), 150 teams have pitched exactly nine innings of hit-free, run-free domination in either a regular-season or postseason game. The record of those teams is a perfect 150-0. OK, sure.

Or 10 is also cool … because no team in the modern era has pitched exactly 10 hitless, scoreless innings in a game and lost, either. The record of teams that do that: 4-0 … as we’d all expect. However …

On the other hand … here comes the Strangest But Truest no-hitter fact ever: No team has ever taken a no-hitter into the 11th inning … and won that game! This is true. Those teams are now 0-4. Really.

So if your favorite team ever finds itself throwing a no-hitter in the 11th inning, don’t say we didn’t warn you. It may seem like a beautiful thing while you’re watching it. But in reality, it’s more dangerous than you think, just because it’s …

Baseball!

(Top photo of Kyle Schwarber: Rich Graessle / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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