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Mailbag: Least plate appearances by a winning team

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 playOtis 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:

July 25, 1992: Pirates 0, Braves 1
July 27, 1993: Rangers 1, Royals 0
September 20, 1998: Dodgers 1, Giants 0

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.

Thanks, James!

16 Responses to “Mailbag: Least plate appearances by a winning team”

  1. Raphy Says:

    Interesting post James.
    As a minor addendum- It is possible to create this list with a single PI search by using the PI team pitching game finder and searching for losses in which Batters Faced < 3.1251 * IP.

    1 1998-09-20 SFG LAD L 0-1 9.0 2 1 1 1 10 1 0 116 77 0 0 28 27 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0.329 3.368 .692 2 1.00
    2 1993-07-27 KCR TEX L 0-1 9.0 1 1 1 1 11 1 0 106 76 28 27 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0.357 4.044 .827 1 1.00
    3 1992-07-25 PIT ATL L 0-1 8.0 1 1 1 1 5 1 0 92 55 0 0 25 24 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0.218 2.687 .597 2 1.12
    4 1946-06-04 NYG CHC L 2-3 8.0 7 3 3 5 6 0 1 23 17 0 1 2 3.38
    Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
    Generated 4/15/2011.

    The game from '46 is not physically possible and the BF number there is clearly an error.

  2. Whiz Says:

    @1, you can also do it with the team pitching game finder with IP=8, team loses and ascending order by BF. The incorrect BF Giant-Cub game is on top, followed by the one with 25 BF.

    There are also a number with 26 BF (lots of 2-0, 2-1 and 1-0 games). In one of those games (on 1967-06-23), the Twins had 6 hits and a walk, but two runners were erased by GDP and two by CS.

  3. John Q Says:

    What an odd game!

    I think the least amount of plate appearances in an official game would be 52, 27 for the visitors, 25 for the home team. That would be a game where the pitcher for the home team threw a perfect game while the home team only scored one run by a Home Run.

    The Pirates had 32 plate appearances, 8 hits & 3 walks and the Braves only had 25, 1 hit & 1 walk and the Braves still won the game! That's really amazing!

    The big problem for the Pirates that day is that had 3 runners Caught Stealing and they hit into a double play. The Pirates had 2 caught stealing in the First inning which is a rare occurrence.

  4. John Q Says:


    Correction @2, that should read: Pirates had 5 hits & 3 walks.

  5. John Q Says:

    correction @3 not @2

  6. BSK Says:

    Any time Andy Van Slyke is mentioned, I am in.

  7. Spartan Bill Says:

    July 30, 1971

    The Orioles were up 1-0 over KC after 4 and a half innings (at home of course) when the game was called because of rain.

    Dick Drago was the losing pitcher. He allowed a solo HR to Frank Robinson in the 1st, but was othwerwise perfect.

    So with the 13 PA the Orioles had the least plate appearances by a winning team.

  8. John Q Says:

    Correction @3, The Pirates didn't hit into a double play they performed a double play on the Braves when Pendleton struck-out and Don Slaught threw out Blauser at second.

  9. Gary W Says:

    Honrable mention has to go to the Dodgers and the Cubs on September 9, 1965, Sandy Koufax's perfecto. The Cubs brought 27 to the plate, and they all went down in order. The Dodgers brought 26 batters to the plate. 53 batters total.

  10. Arthur Robinson Says:

    The closest I can think of for John Q's 52-batter game was on september 9, 1965, when 53 batters came to the plate in a 9-inning game:

    Sandy Koufax pitched a perfectgame but only came to bat twice. The winning Dodgers (the home team) had only two baserunners, one LOB. It could easily have been a 52-batter game (see the Dodgers 7th).

  11. John Q Says:

    @10, Arthur,

    That's a crazy boxscore! Bob Hendley's day gets complete lost in Koufax' perfect game.

  12. spycake Says:

    My first thought was this game:

    But I forgot about the Joe Mauer walk (the one that wasn't erased by a double play). Still, 26 PA and win is pretty good!

  13. Neil L. Says:

    Hats off to you, James! You've unearthed a very nice gem. The game in question was way off my baseball radar until you brought it back to life.

    Raphy, nice touch with the Player Index in adding the extra one eighth to three BF before mutliplying by the IP. Clever!

  14. James Says:

    @1, Yes, nicely done. I spent about a minute thinking about whether I could do something like that, and decided it wasn't ideal because games can last an infinite number of innings. Now that I've read these comments and spent another minute thinking about it, that wasn't much of a reason. The formula would encompass games going 16+ innings where the winner had as many as two plate appearances over the minimum, except that (a) that's never happened, and (b) if it had, it'd probably be a game worth making a note of anyway.

    Oh well. Thanks for posting this.

  15. DoubleDiamond Says:

    That Dodgers-Giants game probably got overshadowed in baseball news that day by the end of Ripken's streak.

  16. DoubleDiamond Says:

    @3 wrote:

    I think the least amount of plate appearances in an official game would be 52, 27 for the visitors, 25 for the home team. That would be a game where the pitcher for the home team threw a perfect game while the home team only scored one run by a Home Run.

    My comment:

    The home team's pitcher would not need to throw a perfect game. However, all batters that reached safely would have to be out on the basepaths in plays in which another batter doesn't reach safely - double play, caught stealing, etc.

    The home team's lone run would not have to be a solo homer, either. It could be a triple followed by a sacrifice fly or a grounder to the right side (with less than two out, of course). Or after tripling, the runner could score via a wild pitch, passed ball, balk, or steal of home. Or it could be something like the lead-off batter in the inning reaching first by any means, stealing second, getting bunted over to third, and then scoring by any of the ways already mentioned.