Lucas Harrell Walk Shrimp

Jays Walk Away: Can You Make a Walkoff Walk Worse

Losing, it goes without saying, is bad. We’ve seen the 2017 Blue Jays do a lot of it – relative to other recent incarnations of the team – and it surely feels awful. Even though all losses count equally in the standings, the feel of a 11-2 drubbing and an extra inning nail biter are very different. Sometimes losing is bad, other times it’s the worst. Nothing though, in baseball, compares to the anti-climax of the walkoff walk. Even the winning team doesn’t know the appropriate level of high fives and celebration when it happens. It’s a win! It’s a walkoff! Take your base. There is no opportunity for a play to be made. Everybody, watch the last 90 feet of the game play out in a mechanical and rote fashion. Thank you and good night.

On Twitter, we call it “#Shrimp!” when a team falls victim to it’s own inability to throw strikes at the most critical time of a ball game. When the Blue Jays got #shrimped for the second time this year, it made me think that, with context, some walkoff walks are even worse than others. I’ve gone to Baseball References Play Index to explore that idea.

First, our benchmark for #shrimp futility. Last week in Detroit, Jeff Beliveau walked Alex Avila, the leadoff man. Then Jose Iglesias sacrifice bunted him over to second base. None of that is unusual. In extra innings, the home manager knows he is playing for precisely one run and will often give up an out in the hopes that the runner being on second will save him. Lucas Harrell entered the game to face Ian Kinsler and got him to line out. Three batters in and there were two out with a runner on second. Then Nick Castellanos reached on an error by the third baseman, putting runners on first and third. Castellanos advanced to second without a play on the 2-0 pitch, then Justin Upton then walked on 3-1. Two batters after our “not looking too bad” situation, disaster looms. Miguel Cabrera, one of baseball’s greatest hitters, gets the count to 3-2 and then walks, pushing home the winning run. Walk, Out, Out, E5, Walk, Walk. The Tigers didn’t do anything helpful by swinging the bat, the Jays  gave them all of the bases they would need for free.

So this is the bar under which we must squeeze for #Shrimp futility. What more can a team possibly do, wait, no, what more can a pitcher possibly do, to make it as easy as possible for the opponent to achieve the walkoff walk? Pulling up the game ending walks list on B-Ref gives us 508 instances of #Shrimp since 1930, the first year of their play-by-play data. 508 is a lot, but hey, I can at least comb through a few of these years and see how unusual Toronto’s gift was in these types of walkoff loss.

Rule number one in our search for the worst #Shrimp is as follows: The winning team must not record a hit in the inning. Sure, they could get a hit and then hit into a double play and still end up walkoff-walking it, but there’s at least some excitement and competent play going on there. None of that. Straight inability is what I’m looking for. Let’s eliminate errors, too. I suppose we could allow a hit-by-pitch if there were some other compelling failures in the inning. This is definitely about the pitchers, though.

If occurred to me that what I’m really seeking here is the exact opposite of the Immaculate Inning; instead of three strikeouts on nine pitches, we would see four walks on 16 pitches. The Blasphemer’s Shrimp Cocktail as it were. Would a manager even leave a pitcher in to do such a thing? After three walks, would even the proudest pitcher not just groove one, batting-practice style, to avoid the strange infamy? Who knows.

I went back 20 years and sought out walkoffs walks under these criteria and I still got a surprising amount of variety in the way that it can begin to crumble before eventually ending with a #Shrimp. I have never been lucky at coining a phrase, but I would like to submit that the four-walks-in-an-inning walkoff walk be #ShrimpCocktail. Do with that what you will.

There have been 16 instances of #ShrimpCocktail in the last 20 years, which is a little less frequent than once a year. Of those 16 here are three worse than what the Jays pulled in Detroit last week.

3. Andrew Cashner/Joe Thatcher April 13, 2012

In an 8-8 ninth inning tie, Cashner enters the game, striking out Dee Gordon and inducing a groundout from Tony Gwynn Jr. With two out and the bases empty, he walks Mark Ellis on 3-2, Matt Kemp on 3-2, and James Loney on 3-1. Sensing doom, Cashner is pulled and replaced so Joe Thatcher can face Andre Ethier with the game on the line. He throws four straight balls and the Cocktail is served. Ice cold. Notable for the struggle to get the third out after the easy first two and a reliever who was no relief at all.

2. Bobby Jones April 8, 2004

Jones enters the game in the 12th for the Red Sox and allows two Orioles to reach, emerging unscathed, so he returns for the 13th inning in a 2-2 tie. Javy Lopez walks on 3-2, then Jose Bautista (yes, Baltimore Oriole Bautista!) strikes out. David Segui walks on 3-1, Luis Matos walks on 3-2 and Larry Bigbie walks on 3-2 to put the shrimp all around the glass and end it at home plate. Notable: there was no attempt to relieve Jones and Bautista was the only out, saving Jones from absolute futility.

1. Scott Alexander/Kelvin Herrera July 8, 2017

Well, this is odd, in 20 years of walkoff walks, the most futile effort I could find was the one immediately preceding the Jays getting #Shrimped in Detroit. Scott Alexander starts with a clean slate in the bottom of the 10th vs. the Dodgers. He walks Chase Ultey on 3-2 and allows a steal of second before walking Corey Seager on yet another 3-2 pitch. He then walks Justin Turner, again on 3-2. Ned Yost has seen where this is going and calls in Kelvin Herrera. He brings seafood sauce to the mound and walks Bellinger, also, obviously, on a 3-2 pitch. Dodgers win. This is notable because no ball found fair territory in the half inning. Despite running the count full on every batter, the Dodgers celebrate a walkoff with zero outs in the frame. True futility from the Royals arms.

As an addendum, the Blue Jays did end up on the happy side of history in this type of scenario. On May 3rd, 1997, Carlos Delgado got the RBI and Otis Nixon scored in the bottom of the 9th to seal a 6-5 Toronto victory. One of the walks was intentional in this inning, so I’m not sure it’s as pure a victory as some of our other examples.

So next time you’re feeling pitiful, pull up play index and see if you can find any endings sadder than those above. Maybe it won’t seem so rough.

Lead Photo © Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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