Posted by Neil Paine on April 15, 2011
B-R reader James Sinclair sent this one in to us, so what follows are his words:
A conversation with a friend led me to look up the Braves-Pirates box score from July 25, 1992, a game any Braves fan who was around at the time would recognize for at least two reasons: (1) It was the Braves' 13th consecutive win, tying the franchise record at the time (later broken by a 15-game streak in 2000), and, (2) that mundane-sounding "Flyball: CF" with one out in the top of the 9th was this play—Otis Nixon's spectacular catch to rob Andy Van Slyke of a home run that would've given the Pirates a 2-1 lead.
What I had forgotten until I looked at the box score is that the Braves had just one hit, a David Justice home run. Even more unusual, they had just 25 plate appearances, which is the absolute minimum a team can have and still win a full-length game (Jeff Blauser drew a walk in the fourth, but was caught stealing). And it would have to be the home team—one run scored (by home run, most likely), 24 outs, and the top of the ninth ends with a 1-0 lead—while for a visiting team the minimum is 28.
I figured that's a pretty rare occurrence, and the best search method I could think of was to find games where a team faced only one batter over the minimum and still lost, so I went to the team pitching game finder. I had to search in kind of a roundabout way, because I didn't see a way to find all games where BF – PO = 1 for the losing team (and also I'm not a subscriber, for which I sincerely apologize—I won't tell anyone how I got around the limited result displays). So I searched for losing efforts where BF = 25 and PO = 24, then BF = 26 and PO = 25 (to account for games ending in a walk-off), and so on. After about ten rounds of this, I did some broader searches (BF < 42, PO > 36; BF < 48, PO > 42, etc.) to make sure I didn't overlook an extra-inning game that fit the criteria.
Point is, unless I missed something, there are only three full-length games in the Baseball-Reference archive in which the losing team faced one batter over the minimum. Oddly, they were all in the same decade:
The latter two were won by the visiting team, with 28 plate appearances, so the Braves appear to be in sole possession of the record, since 1919, for least plate appearances in a victory—and it took one of the most memorable plays in Braves history to do it.
A few more observations:
- Kevin Appier's game score of 91 in the 1993 game is the second-highest in the archive by the losing pitcher of a nine-inning game, and the highest since 1964.
- In the 1998 game, the Giants' Brian Johnson led off the eighth with a triple, but the Dodgers managed to get out of the inning.
- Barry Bonds was on the losing team in two of these games, was caught stealing in both, and went a combined 0-for-7 at the plate.
- Nixon robbed Van Slyke of more than a home run—Van Slyke finished the 1992 season with 199 hits (his career high), and tied with the Braves' Terry Pendleton for the league lead.
So, there you go. It's not timely at all, but I feel like I've made an archaeological discovery here (if this is already online somewhere, I haven't found it), and just wanted to pass it on to someone who might be interested.