longtime MLB reliever David Robertson:
I don’t know about you guys, but to me this will always be the definitive image of longtime MLB reliever David Robertson:
That incident occurred in the sixth inning of a wild-card game in October 2017 when Minnesota Twins catcher Brian Dozier, who was then playing for Minnesota, gave a foul tip off his bat, deflecting a Robertson pitch straight into the dick and balls of Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. Even though I don’t support either the Yankees or the Twins and have no other memories of this game, it’s unsettling that I can recall this occurrence at all. However, the truth is that I have a special place in my brain reserved for clips of players being hit in the groyne by missiles. As I recall, Sanchez suffered a nasty direct blow to his hog region, and his teammate’s terrified response was a reflection of the intensity of the strike.
Robertson is still working at the age of 37. He obtained a job this season closing games for the Chicago Cubs, who stink really terrible, despite only pitching 18 innings in total over the previous two seasons after Tommy John surgery. In the third game of a four-game series, the Cubs took on the Pirates on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. It has not been a very close series: The Cubs led by 13 runs going into the ninth inning of the third game on Wednesday, which Pittsburgh won by a cumulative score of 17 runs, before the Pirates scraped together a few late meaningless scores. Unusually, none of these contests have resulted in the season’s worst rout:
On Wednesday night, Castillo took the mound once more in an effort to protect Pittsburgh’s bullpen and avert a crushing defeat. Pitchers hitting is presently less frequent than it has ever been in the history of professional baseball, despite the fact that position players are pitching more frequently than ever before. A plate appearance by David Robertson in a real baseball game has just never happened in the past 18 years, dating back to his senior year at Paul W. Bryant High School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Since the designated hitter is now used in both the American League and the National League, Robertson’s prospects of swinging a bat in a meaningful game are essentially zero as a 37-year-old reliever.
It’s not exactly a Moonlight Graham-level tragedy that Robertson’s career could end without him ever stepping into the batter’s box, but it’s also not nothing: Robertson’s 695 career games without a plate appearance ranked fourth in baseball history, according to MLB’s Sarah Langs. The fantasies of even the most realistic baseball fans do not end with ever swinging a bat in the major league, much less over a 15-year major-league career. The man must be permitted to enter the area and use the bat, period!
Evidently concurring, Cubs manager David Ross chose Wednesday night’s rout as Robertson’s major opportunity. How unprepared is a reliever taking his first and only career at-bat in the 696th game of his career? To begin with, there is the issue of equipment: The thrill of the occasion eventually set in for Robertson, who was a teenager the last time he required batting gloves, as he swiftly borrowed a bat from Cubs utility player Christopher Morel and a helmet from catcher Yan Gomes. Ross remarked after the game, “He couldn’t stop grinning on-deck.” “I could tell his teammates were having fun, and I was too. Fun was had.
Robertson kept grinning as he approached the right-handed batter’s box, where Castillo’s searing fastball (maximum speed of 55 mph) offered a rare opportunity for a complete rookie to make excellent contact. An infielder who was throwing for the second time in his career lofted an eephuses (eephii?) at a seasoned closer who was making his first career plate appearance, and what followed was as lovely an at-bat as Major League Baseball is capable of producing:
In the end, the magic was unable to deliver a fairy-tale outcome. Robertson made two uncomfortable cuts to get into a 1-2 hole before working the count all the way through. Robertson was fully committed the entire time Castillo’s sixth pitch of the at-bat flew in head high. After the crucial moment, he declared, “I wasn’t going to not swing.” I had to strike. I needed to try. With all due respect to Michael Perez, the catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, I believe we can all agree that the funniest scenario would have had Robertson foul-tipping a ball forcefully into the catcher’s junk, for a lovely touch of symmetry. Unfortunately, Robertson’s third swing of the evening was almost as crazy as his previous two, and he struck out without scoring.