Pablo Lopez accidentally made history

Last Friday, July 2, the Atlanta Braves hosted the Miami Marlins for the first game of a three-game series, with Pablo Lopez taking the mound for the Marlins against Drew Smyly for the Braves. After Smyly worked through a relatively uneventful top of the first inning, Lopez took the mound for what the Marlins hoped would be a long, effective outing. The day before, the Marlins had used six relievers in an 11-6 win over the Philadelphia Phillies after starter Jordan Holloway allowed five runs in three lackluster innings. So the Marlins were counting on Lopez to get their pitching staff back on track.

Instead, Lopez threw just one pitch, a 92-MPH two-seam fastball that tailed into Ronald Acuña Jr.‘s midsection for a hit-by-pitch.

This was the sixth time in 55 career games against Miami that Acuña had been hit by a Marlins pitcher, and the third time it happened leading off the game. The most notable of those was the first one, on August 15, 2018. Acuña had homered in five straight games, including three straight leadoff homers, and he was drilled in the left elbow by a 97-MPH Jose Ureña fastball on the first pitch of the bottom of the first inning to break that streak. Benches cleared twice, Acuña left the game, Ureña was ejected and eventually suspended, and the foundation was set for years of drama any time a Marlins pitcher hits Acuña with a pitch.

So when Lopez hit Acuña last weekend, again on the first pitch of the bottom of the first inning, Braves manager Brian Snitker was fired up. He made it clear to the umpires that he’d had enough. The umpires conferred — as they’re now mandated to by MLB in such a situation — and a few minutes after the pitch, crew chief Dan Iassogna ejected Lopez from the game even though no one actually thought Lopez intentionally hit Acuña.

Ross Detwiler came on in relief and allowed a single to Freddie Freeman and a sacrifice fly to Ozzie Albies, and suddenly Lopez had as many earned runs allowed as pitches thrown in the game. Surprisingly, that was it for the scoring that night. The Marlins bullpen threw 7.2 more innings, allowing just one more hit and no more runs, but Smyly and five relievers combined for a five-hit shutout. The result was a 1-0 Braves win, with Lopez the losing pitcher.

And I started wondering: How many times has a starting pitcher faced just one hitter and taken the loss in a game? What about throwing just one pitch?

So I turned to my friend, The Internet, to find out the answers to those questions. I’ll give the short answers, and then we’ll dig into the specifics, because there are quite a few interesting tales to tell here.

Lopez was the ninth pitcher to start a game on the mound, face just one hitter, and take the loss. I was a little surprised the number was so low, because I realized as I was searching that the 1-0 score was doing a lot of work in my mind. The rules of baseball say a pitcher who allows the first run can take a loss in a 17-16 game, as long as the runs are scored in a particular order. There have been 45 instances of a starting pitcher facing just one hitter and being charged with a run, but only nine of those pitchers became the Losing Pitcher. In fact, teams are actually 20-25 in those games. Put another way, historically speaking, a team is almost twice as likely to win a game in which its starting pitcher faces one batter and allows a run as the 2021 Arizona Diamondbacks are to win any game.

But I digress. Lopez was the ninth starter to take a one-batter loss, but he was just the second starter to take a one-pitch loss, joining Art Schallock in 1955. There was almost a third, which I’ll also tell you about in a few minutes.

But first, let’s talk about the seven starting pitchers who faced one hitter, threw more than one pitch, and took the loss. Because baseball history tends to get more interesting the further back you go, we’ll go from most recent to least recent. Get ready for tales of a coach being ejected for trying to steal an umpire’s stopwatch, a catcher trying to nab a base-stealer by throwing the ball through his pitcher, an entire team trying to get ejected just so they could have a day off, and some of the most beautiful old-timey baseball writing you can imagine!

Starters Who Faced One Batter and Got the Loss

Brandon Morrow, June 11, 2012

Brandon Morrow is one of a couple who might deserve a little bit of an asterisk here. While he is only credited with one batter faced, he actually threw pitches to two hitters. Pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays against the Washington Nationals, Morrow allowed a leadoff double to Steve Lombardozzi (who is not a “Junior” because his father, the former Minnesota Twins infielder, is Stephen Paul Lombardozzi while the younger is Stephen Anthony Paul Lombardozzi — just in case you were wondering) on the sixth pitch of the game. On Morrow’s first pitch to Nats rookie Bryce Harper, Morrow felt something in his side. Two pitches later, with a 2-1 count on Harper, Morrow’s day was done.

“I felt it on the first pitch to Harper,” Morrow said after the game. “I felt like a stabbing in my side when I threw it. I just put it out of my mind for the second pitch, just threw it like nothing happened, hoping it was nothing. Threw that one and felt the same thing. Then of course I was thinking about it on the third pitch and wasn’t able to deliver the ball very well.”

After the game, Jays manager John Farrell said the injury was “probably substantial,” and he was right. Morrow missed two and a half months with an oblique injury. As for this game, reliever Chad Beck was greeted by Harper with a first-pitch RBI single, putting the run on Morrow’s ledger and the Nationals in the lead. They never relinquished that lead, winning 6-3 and handing Morrow a one-batter* loss.

Tyson Ross, May 19, 2011

Tyson Ross is our second asterisk. Like Morrow, he was removed in the middle of his second batter. Pitching for the Oakland A’s against the Minnesota Twins in Oakland, Ross allowed a fourth-pitch single to Denard Span to lead off the game. Like Morrow, Ross felt something in his side on the first pitch to the second hitter.

“The first pitch to the second hitter (Trevor Plouffe) felt like a muscle spasm or a cramp,” Ross said after the game. “The second pitch I really felt it and the third pitch I said, ‘I can’t throw with this.'”

Ross exited the game with an oblique strain, and he wouldn’t pitch again that season. As for the game, Span, who had moved to second on a passed ball during Plouffe’s at-bat, scored on a one-out Jason Kubel single against reliever David Purcey. The Twins led the rest of the game, eventually winning 11-1 and adding insult to injury for Ross by making him a one-batter* losing pitcher.

Jamie McAndrew, August 28, 1995

Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Jamie McAndrew felt something in his knee on his final warmup pitch before the bottom of the first inning. On his fourth pitch of the game, Chicago White Sox outfielder Lance Johnson hit a double down the right-field line. McAndrew then realized he couldn’t effectively pitch through the knee injury and exited the game.

Angel Miranda relieved McAndrew and allowed Johnson to score; he also allowed Dave Martinez and Tim Raines and Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura to score that inning, and Ventura again in the third inning. In all, Miranda allowed five earned runs in six innings of relief, and while the Brewers battled back for a close 6-5 loss, they were never able to tie the game, leaving McAndrew as the tough-luck one-batter losing pitcher.

McAndrew didn’t pitch again in 1995 after knee surgery, and shoulder issues — possibly related to mechanical changes caused by the knee injury — shut him down for all of 1996. After an 8.38 ERA in 19.1 innings in 1997, his big-league career was over.

Craig Swan, April 26, 1981

We only have reliable pitch-count data since 1988, so we’re now into the era where I had to (got to?) do some digging through newspaper archives to find that Craig Swan is our third asterisk. Swan took the mound for the New York Mets in the bottom of the first inning against the Montreal Expos. On his fourth pitch of the game, Expos rookie Tim Raines got a base hit. It was only Raines’ 27th career game, but he already had 11 career stolen bases, so the Mets knew what was coming and called for a pitchout on the first pitch Swan threw to Jerry Manuel. Catcher Ron Hodges, recognizing that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, tried to throw the ball as low as possible to catch the speedy Raines.

Unfortunately, what Archimedes and Euclidian geometry had failed to note was that sometimes Craig Swan is standing right between Point A and Point B. Hodges’ throw hit Swan in the back, breaking one of his ribs.

“I’ve never been in a game where I threw only five pitches,” Swan said after the game. “But it hurts. It hurts me when I cough or try to breathe hard.”

Swan spent the next five weeks on the 21-day disabled list. In the game, he was relieved by Tom Hausman, who threw a wild pitch to move Raines to third before Manuel’s fly ball to right scored him. Andre Dawson then hit a home run to give the Expos a 2-0 lead. Hausman ended up throwing six innings and allowing just two runs, but Mets reliever (and future Expos Hall of Famer) Jeff Reardon allowed three runs in the seventh and one in the eighth to build Montreal’s lead to 7-2, and the Mets’ four-run rally in the ninth fell short of getting Swan off the hook as a one-batter* losing pitcher in the 7-6 loss.

Jim Barr, September 5, 1977

Jim Barr was a very good pitcher for about five years. From 1972-76, Barr averaged 229 innings pitched for the San Francisco Giants with a 3.08 ERA (121 ERA+). Then he began his transition into “innings eater” — from 1977-79, he averaged 198 innings with a 4.24 ERA (91 ERA+). It was near the end of this first transition year that he took on the Atlanta Braves in a battle between two National League West teams that were simply playing out the string in their respective losing seasons.

Braves second baseman Jerry Royster led off the bottom of the first inning, facing Barr, and lined the third pitch he saw right back up the middle. The ball struck Barr in his right (pitching) elbow and caromed into foul territory near the third-base dugout.

Barr was removed from the game and taken to the hospital for x-rays, which were negative. In fact, they must have been super-negative, because he was back out on the mound four days later for his 33rd start of the year. You could make a case that he maybe should have taken some time off — he had a 6.03 ERA in his final six starts after the comebacker — but like I said, he was an innings eater.

As for the game with the Braves, Barr was replaced by John Curtis, who allowed Royster to score on back-to-back singles by Rowland Office and Jeff Burroughs. Curtis allowed two more hits and two runs of his own in the first inning, giving the Braves a 3-0 lead. The Giants managed just three hits and only got three runners into scoring position, going down quietly and pinning the 4-0 loss on one-batter losing pitcher Barr.

Wayne LaMaster, May 5, 1938

Baseball writing in the 1930s was awesome. Check out this opening paragraph from Irving Vaughan in the Chicago Tribune:

“Albert Paul Epperly, the Iowa farm boy, was introduced yesterday in his maiden start as a big leaguer and his Cub mates turned the event into a carnival in which the humble Phillies were the unwilling stooges. The hapless Phils were not only more or less, principally more, helpless before the farm graduate’s pitching but also had to stand out in the cold for more than two hours while the Cubs were compiling a 21 to 2 triumph.”

The starting pitcher for the stooges — err, Phillies — that day was Wayne LaMaster, pitching in his second and final season in the big leagues. LaMaster came into the game with a 10.34 ERA, and it’s really hard to have your ERA go up when it starts that high. One way to do it? Allow one earned run in 0.0 innings pitched to raise it to 10.91, which is what LaMaster did.

On ball three to Cubs third baseman Stan Hack, LaMaster injured his arm and had to come out of the game. He would miss 25 days before returning, and while his performance improved for the rest of the season, that really says more about the beginning of his season than anything else. He had a 6.37 ERA over his final 17 games of the season. Late in the year, he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers for Max Butcher, who had been terrible for Brooklyn but was one of the few bright spots for the last place Phillies over the final two months of the season.

In the game against the Cubs, LaMaster was relieved by Tommy Reis, who finished walking Hack and also walked Billy Herman, Frank Demaree, and Augie Galan — with a two-run single by Joe Marty mixed in — before himself being relieved by Pete Sivess, who issued bases-loaded walks to Gabby Hartnett and opposing pitcher Al Epperly before finally retiring Hack to end the inning. The Cubs had a 4-0 lead and LaMaster was the pitcher of record despite not even finishing a single plate appearance, and the Phillies never threatened. The first inning wasn’t even the worst one for the Phillies — in the bottom of the eighth, Phillies pitchers walked only three hitters, but they also allowed eight singles, a double, and a triple, allowing the Cubs to extend their lead from 9-1 to 21-1. The Phillies’ rally in the ninth fell just short, and they lost by 19 runs. The Cubs scored 21 runs, but the only one that mattered to LaMaster was the first one, because that’s the one that made him a one-batter losing pitcher.

Lefty Weinert, September 7, 1922

This one is crazy, and our final asterisk. The Phillies were coming off a stretch where they had played 14 games in the previous eight days, with no days off and doubleheaders on six of the eight days. They had done reasonably well in that stretch, with a 6-8 record that was significantly better than their overall 47-81 mark. But when the first-place Giants came to town, the Phillies decided they just wanted a day off. So they hatched a plan.

Essentially, the plan was simple: If we all get ejected, they’ll cancel the game. So they sent Weinert out to the mound and told him to get on the case of umpire Bill Klem. Here’s how the New York Herald described it:

“The languid Phillies began to ride Klem from the start, but after sending Weinert and Arthur Fletcher to the club house Bill the Umpire decided to visit greater punishment still on the rest of his traducers, maligners and libelers. Bill made them stay on the field and take their pasting, and let us say that Bill Baker‘s artful athletes didn’t like it for a plugged nickel.”

Weinert threw four straight balls to Giants shortstop Dave Bancroft, complaining after each one. After ball four, Weinert called Klem a “robber.” Phillies coach Art Fletcher shouted, “Jesse James!” The rest of the Phillies bench started chanting, “Robin Hood,” and the Baker Bowl crowd joined in, apparently unaware that the analogies were falling apart.

Klem then pulled out his stopwatch and told the Phillies they had two minutes to get back to playing baseball. Before the time was up, Weinert got back on the mound and threw a pitch that almost hit Heinie Groh in the head. Klem yelled “Ball,” and the crowd yelled “Crook.” Weinert yelled at Klem, “Buy yourself a tin can and sit over by the station,” which was a 1922 way of calling an umpire blind. Soon the entire Phillies ballclub was on the field yelling at Klem, who ejected Weinert (presumably for calling him blind) and Fletcher (for trying to steal his stopwatch).

After Weinert and Fletcher had been dispatched, a sign appeared in the window of the clubhouse out in center field calling Klem “Catfish.” According to Steve Wulf, Catfish “is what Klem was called behind his back because 1) he looked like a fish and 2) if he heard you say it, you would be gone.”

Once Klem got wise to the Phillies’ goal of all getting ejected, he simply stopped ejecting them. George Smith replaced Weinert and allowed a double to Groh, a single to Frankie Frisch, a home run to Irish Meusel, a single to Ross Youngs, and a hit-by-pitch to High Pockets Kelly before he was replaced by Jesse Winters. Winters allowed both of his inherited runners to score before escaping the inning down 6-0, but he allowed five runs of his own later and the Giants handed the Phillies a 13-6 loss. That made Weinert a one-batter* losing pitcher.

Starters Who Threw One Pitch and Got the Loss

ALMOST: Pedro Astacio, September 6, 2000

Facing the Cubs in Denver, Colorado Rockies pitcher Pedro Astacio was struck by a line drive off the bat of Eric Young on the first pitch of the game. X-rays on Astacio’s hand were negative, and he made two more starts that month.

Astacio was replaced on the mound by John Wasdin, who allowed a double to Willie Greene and then, with Sammy Sosa at the plate, unleashed a wild pitch that allowed Young to score. Greene later scored on a sacrifice fly by Mark Grace to make it 2-0, and by the end of the third inning the Cubs were leading 5-2 with Astacio still the pitcher of record. In the bottom of the eighth, with the Cubs holding onto a 5-3 lead, the Rockies scored a run on a Butch Huskey sacrifice fly and then, with two outs and a runner on first, Jeff Cirillo lined a double to right field off Todd Van Poppel to score Neifi Perez and tie the game, taking away Astacio’s chance at dubious history. The Cubs still won in the 11th inning on an RBI triple by Grace and a two-run homer by Julio Zuleta, but that loss was on Gabe White, not Astacio.

Pablo Lopez, July 2, 2021

We’ve talked a lot about this one. Lopez is the first pitcher in MLB history to pitch to one batter and allow the only run of the game, and doing it on one pitch is even more impressive. And like I said before, he’s one of only two starting pitchers to throw a single pitch and be pinned with the loss. The other?

Art Schallock, August 3, 1955

Warming up before the game, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Art Schallock felt “a twinge of pain in his salary whip,” according to James Ellis of the Baltimore Evening Sun — seriously, why do we say pitching arm instead of salary whip these days??? — and after grooving a pitch that Kansas City A’s first baseman Vic Power lined for a base hit, Schallock “retired to the showers at his own request.”

After the game, there was concern that Schallock would be on the shelf for a while, but he returned six days later and pitched in eight games the rest of the year, mostly in relief. But he had a 7.85 ERA in those eight games, and then his major league career was over.

In the game in question, Schallock was relieved by Fritz Dorish, who got a popup and a strikeout before three straight walks and a single made it 3-0 for the A’s. The Orioles managed a single run in the bottom of the first, but that was it for the day, and the A’s took the game easily by a score of 5-1. That made Art Schallock the first — and until last week, the only — pitcher to start a game on the mound, throw one pitch, and take the loss.

Schallock is 97 years old now, living in Sonoma, California, and he didn’t know he had this dubious distinction until I told him over the phone on Tuesday afternoon. In fact, Schallock has a lot of clear memories from his playing days — check out his SABR Bio Project essay written by Bill Nowlin for a lot of his memories, including his World War II service, rooming with Yogi Berra, and the Yankees sending Mickey Mantle to the minors to make room for Schallock on the roster, among others — but he doesn’t remember this game at all. It was just another game.

So if you’re wondering how Jose Ureña intentionally hitting Ronald Acuña with a pitch in 2018 indirectly led to a 97-year-old man finding out he has a tiny niche in baseball history … well, there you have it.

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