On Oct. 3, 2021, Giants’ pitcher Logan Webb tucked a home run just inside the left field pole at San Francisco’s Oracle Park.
Four months later, Major League Baseball announced the designated hitter’s arrival in the National League, making it a near impossibility that pitchers (Shohei Ohtani doesn’t count) will get to hit anymore, let alone hit a ball over the fence.
What would it take for the Mets to send a pitcher to the plate again?
“It’d have to be late-inning, late in the season where injury wasn’t a factor,” said Buck Showalter.
“We’re out of people,” Taijuan Walker guessed. “Some freak stuff happens and we need someone to go up there.”
But with pitchers not hitting anymore, there are no more pinch hitters subbing in for them, meaning that benches are still mostly intact late in games now. There are two other boogeymen that could exert their power and force a pitcher to grab a bat: one that’s been around forever, one that’s hyper modern.
“Enough injuries,” Seth Lugo chimed in. “That’d be bad.”
“COVID everywhere,” added Max Scherzer, in a tone that made it abundantly clear he was joking.
Unfortunately for fans who miss seeing out-of-place ballplayers swing for the fences, the chances of a Met pitcher taking a hack are pretty close to zero.
“I don’t know that we’d ever send one up to hit,” hitting coach Eric Chavez said, while allowing the possibility that maybe they’d send one up to bunt. “If we’re in a situation where we have to hit a pitcher, it’s a bad situation.”
Walker, Lugo and Scherzer are part of an exclusive club. They are three of the 41 active pitchers who have clubbed exactly one home run. The new rule changes have made their chances at a second one virtually nonexistent. While, from an entertainment standpoint, fewer pitcher at-bats is a net positive, it eliminated one of the game’s quirkiest charms.
There are still a few active pitchers — Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke, Max Fried and Jacob deGrom chief among them — who are legitimate hitters. But guys like Walker, Lugo and Scherzer (who have a collective .161 batting average), admittedly got their moment of glory through sheer luck.
Walker had the most impressive homer of the Mets’ three one-timers. On July 25, 2017 while playing for the Diamondbacks, Walker took Braves’ pitcher Mike Foltynewicz deep. Like, really deep.
“It was my first game back after having my first son,” Walker said. “0-2 fastball, 97 [miles per hour]. If he had thrown anything else I would have swung and missed. It should have been anything else, but it was a fastball right down the middle. I swung, and the next thing I know I’m jogging around the bases. People say this, but I really blacked out. It was crazy.”
The ball soared a majestic 455 feet at 109.9 mph, stunning the crowd at Chase Field, and also the man who couldn’t believe he actually hit a baseball that hard.
“I knew I got it good but I was sprinting, thinking double,” Walker said. “It was beat.”
The pitch selection helped him a bit, but nothing could rescue Walker from the immediate realization that he had to execute a home run trot.
“Really embarrassing,” Walker said of his trot. “I didn’t look cool. I wish I could do it over. I’d do some cool s—t. My hands, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. It was ugly.”
Lugo, who also had the benefit of a grooved fastball, sent a 104.4 mph laser over the left-center field wall at Citi Field. His strategy, unlike Walker who was in an 0-2 hole, was to ambush Rockies’ pitcher Chris Rusin.
“As a pitcher, leading off the inning, you’re supposed to take the first pitch,” Lugo said. “I’m getting ready to go out there, and our hitting coach, Pat Roessler, says this pitcher likes to throw first-pitch fastballs right down the middle to pitchers. Go ahead and let it eat first pitch.”
The Mets were up 7-0 at the time, adding an air of relaxation to the moment, and when Lugo got back to the dugout his teammates gave him the silent treatment. Lugo is also the only member of the Mets’ threesome who hit his lone dinger without the help of batting gloves.
“I’d just cake the pine tar on, and that was enough grip,” Lugo said. “I like the old school look, too.”
Scherzer’s feat of strength is the most recent of the three, coming on Aug. 1, 2017. By his account, an ironic factor is most responsible for his three-run shot in Miami.
“My neck was hurt,” he said. “I hit the homer because I couldn’t pull my head off the ball. My neck was barking and I was actually going to come out of the game, but my spot came up, and when I was up there, I tried to bunt the first two pitches.”
Dusty Baker ordered a slash after that, in which Scherzer showed bunt before pulling back for a big boy swing. The future Hall of Famer says he had no scouting report whatsoever on Marlins’ pitcher Chris O’Grady, who only played 21 total games in the big leagues.
“I got lucky, and somehow, by a miracle, I hit a homer,” Scherzer said.
Scherzer also came out of the game following his moon shot, meaning he didn’t have to calm himself down from the adrenaline rush and go pitch again. The typically intimidating Scherzer could hardly contain his smile as he circled the bases, perhaps because that was his favorite part of getting to hit.
“I do miss hitting,” he said. “I actually miss base running more. I love being on the bases, because it added another conditioning element to a start. To pitch on a hot day, run the bases, and then go back out there and pitch, that was a conditioning thing I really took pride in.”
The 37-year-old self-identified as a 50-grade runner, putting himself right in the middle of baseball’s 20-80 scouting scale.
“I’m a tick faster than you think,” he winked. “I’m not going to say I’m a burner.”
One common thread between Walker, Lugo and Scherzer is their inflated belief in their own hitting abilities. Walker said he gave up hitting when he signed his first contract but “for sure” had some pop as a kid. Lugo led his high school team in home runs as a senior. Scherzer even went as far as estimating that he was better at hitting in high school than he was at pitching. Only Walker was brave enough to say that he was trying to go yard, though.
“Always, 100 percent,” Walker confessed.
The other two humbly described themselves as gap-to-gap, selfless batsmen.
“I’m actually the opposite [of Walker],” Scherzer revealed. “I was trying to get a base hit, hit the ball the other way.”
Lugo, who said he was a decent bunter and would have been better if he wasn’t always trying to move the unhurried Rene Rivera up a base, was also going for a simple base hit.
“I’d take batting practice, swing and miss, pop them up,” he acknowledged. “I wasn’t even swinging for the fences there. Once I get in pull mode I tend to strike out.”
One thing they can agree on is that they all miss hitting, especially Walker, who wanted a chance to get one as a left-handed hitter too. As for maybe getting another shot, the Mets’ manager says he’s very aware of which pitchers on his roster have some documented offensive power.
“Of course, are you kidding me?” Showalter said, before walking away to manage yet another game in which pitchers were robbed of any opportunities to hit a precious home run.