2018-04-23 11:05:03
21 Pitches, 16 Fouls, 12 Minutes: Brandon Belt’s Marathon At-Bat

11:05, April 23 33 0

ANAHEIM, Calif. — If baseball, with its leisurely place, is known as the thinking man’s game, there was an inordinate amount of time on Sunday for players on the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Angels to contemplate — well, just about anything under the cosmos.

When Brandon Belt of the Giants, the second batter of the game, stepped in to face Jaime Barria, a rookie pitcher for the Angels, they produced an at-bat that, in almost every conceivable way, flaunted Commissioner Rob Manfred’s efforts to speed up the pace of play.

Barria pumped pitch after pitch after pitch — fastballs, sliders and changeups — into the strike zone, and Belt spoiled every one. There were fouls down the left-field line, fouls down the right-field line and some hit straight back.

In all, the at-bat took 21 pitches. Fifteen were fouled back with two strikes, and they were interrupted by four throws over to first base before Barria finally triumphed when Belt lined a fastball to right fielder Kole Calhoun.

It was the longest at-bat since at least 1998 — the year accurate pitch counts began being recorded throughout baseball, and also the year that Bartolo Colon threw 20 pitches to Ricky Gutierrez in an at-bat for the previous record.

Sunday’s marathon at-bat took 12 minutes to complete.

“I can probably read a couple chapters of a book, depending on how big the book is,” Angels second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “I can fill up my tank with gas in 12 minutes.”

“After a while it was comical,” said Joe Panik, who had reached first base ahead of Belt with a single after a modest seven-pitch at-bat.

“I just wanted it to end,” said Zack Cozart, who was playing third base for the Angels.

When it did end, Belt — after running through the first base bag — peeled back toward the Giants dugout, where he received a handful of high fives for his effort.

As he did, Angels pitching coach Charles Nagy and catcher Martin Maldonado came out to talk to Barria — not so much to advise him as much as to give him a breather. Still, the at-bat severely taxed the 21-year-old Barria, who had thrown 77 pitches when he was removed without having recorded an out in the third inning.

But it seemed to energize Belt, who had three hits — including a home run for the fourth consecutive game — in the Giants’ 4-2 win.

“I wasn’t going to give it up, and the pitcher wasn’t either,” Belt said. “It made for a good battle. If it helped me get locked in for later in the game, it was worth it.”

In past eras, there might have been hitters particularly adept at frustrating pitchers by fouling off pitch after pitch. But those types of hitters are increasingly rare, having given way to swinging for the fences. Brett Gardner of the Yankees, who sometimes seems to hit the ball out of the catcher’s glove with a late, defensive swing, might be an exception. He had a 12-pitch at-bat that helped the Yankees close out a Game 5 win in their division series against the Cleveland Indians last year.

“I don’t know very many guys that work on a craft of spoiling a pitch,” said Kinsler, a leadoff hitter for much of his career. “I think it just happens. You swing late, swing early, but I think you want to put in play, too. I don’t think you want to stand up there for 21 pitches.”

“It’s an art,” Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said, who added that Belt seemed to have a knack for it.

Indeed, in his next at bat he forced Berria to throw eight pitches — fouling off four pitches with two strikes — before he singled. And when he homered in the fifth, it was after seeing nine pitches — three of which he fouled off with two strikes — from reliever Blake Parker. In his fourth at-bat, he hit the first pitch — a curveball from Jim Johnson — for a single and he flied out on a first-pitch slider in his final at-bat. In all, Belt saw 40 pitches.

In both clubhouses afterward, there was praise for the never-give-up attitude of both Belt and Barria. In fact, as the at-bat unfolded, they seemed to become even more resolute. At one point, Belt stepped out of the batter’s box and took a deep breath. Barria, on the mound, did the same thing. If there was only a tacit acknowledgment between them, Belt did admit to Maldonado that he understood how he felt.

“If I’m in the field and somebody does it, I can’t stand it,” Belt said. “But I wasn’t going to give in.”

When Belt came to bat in third inning, Barria quickly got ahead of him with two sliders for strikes. After taking a fastball for a ball, Belt fouled off a slider, then a fastball, another fastball and then a slider.

At that point, all Maldonado could do was shake his head and smile.

“I’m going, ‘This can’t be happening,’” he said.

It did not. Barria threw a changeup that Belt stroked into right field for a hit. It was the last pitch of the day for Barria, who was soon back in the clubhouse, where at least he would no longer be tormented by Belt.