Sunday afternoon, Giants reliever Santiago Casilla batted against Marlins reliever Jose Ceda, and they were both really terrible.
Santiago Casilla is an interesting player for a few reasons. For one, just last season he was a member of the world champion San Francisco Giants. For two, when Santiago Casilla started playing professional baseball, his name was Jairo Garcia. And for three, Sunday afternoon, Casilla took part in the worst plate appearance in baseball history.
The Giants were beating the Marlins 5-2 with none on and one out in the top of the ninth. A real pinch-hitter was preparing behind Eli Whiteside, but after Whiteside struck out, Bruce Bochy sent Santiago Casilla to the plate instead. Casilla had pitched in the bottom of the eighth, and Bochy didn't want to remove him for a pointless at-bat with closer Brian Wilson unavailable.
So you can already see why this was weird. Casilla had pitched in the eighth inning of a close game because Casilla is a pitcher. Specifically, Casilla is a reliever. A decent reliever, but still a reliever, and a reliever who had never batted in the major leagues. It's weird when relievers go up to hit. But what happened with Casilla turned out even weirder.
Casilla walked to the batter's box under strict orders not to swing. Why would he swing? Nothing good could come of Santiago Casilla swinging, and if he took a bad swing, he could hurt himself. Casilla was batting not because Bochy cared about the at bat, but because Bochy cared about keeping Casilla on the mound, and if Casilla were to watch three strikes and turn around, it wouldn't matter. The at bat didn't matter
Now, it's one thing to bat with no intention of swinging. If the catcher and pitcher don't know you have no intention of swinging, they'll attack you like usual. But Casilla didn't even try to hide his approach. His stance:
Casilla stepped in, but only barely, standing more than a full Pedroia away from home plate. For the Marlins, there was absolutely no mistaking what Casilla was going to do: he was going to stand there and not do anything. The only reason he was standing even that close was because if he were any further away, the umpire would think he was still looking down to the third base coach for a sign. Casilla was standing as far away as he possibly could, intending to do nothing but try not to get hit.
Casilla, then, made himself the equivalent of a tall plant. Marlins reliever Jose Ceda was, for all intents and purposes, pitching to a tall plant in a major league baseball game. His only challenge was to throw three strikes to a plant that posed zero threat on account of its plantness.
Look at catcher Brett Hayes' glove. Hayes knows what's up. Hayes sets up in the very center of the zone, looking for a fastball down the middle. That's what you call as a catcher when you just want an easy strike. You call the pitcher's primary pitch, and you set up in the location with the biggest margin of error. If the pitcher's aiming down the middle, he can miss up, down, inside, or outside, and still throw a strike of some sort. Ceda missed by too much. Ball one.
Repeat of the first one. Same stance. Same pitch call. Same location. This time, Ceda misses even worse. The pitch has a ton of tail on it. Lots of sharp, lateral break. That's a good pitch to throw when you have two strikes on a right-handed hitter. That's a bad pitch to throw when you have zero strikes on a plant. Ball two.
This is, obviously, a bad camera angle. I don't know what the broadcast was trying to show, except maybe how Casilla was tucked into the back corner of the box not unlike how a child plays Battleship. You can't even see if Hayes has to move his glove. But Hayes did have to move his glove, because Ceda missed low. Ball three.
Think about this for a minute. Jose Ceda is a pitcher in the major leagues. It stands to reason, then, that Jose Ceda is one of the very best pitchers in the entire world. Sunday afternoon, he was tasked with throwing three strikes to a tall potted plant, and he fell behind 3-0.
The only explanation I can come up with is that Ceda was afraid. Casilla had never batted in the majors, sure. He's never batted in triple-A, either, nor double-A, nor single-A. But back in 2002, he batted 14 times with the rookie ball Arizona League Barry Bonds had a career slugging percentage of .607. Casilla's career slugging percentage was much much higher, and maybe Ceda preferred to take his chances with the guy on deck. Ball four.and hit .462/.500/.769.
The worst plate appearance in baseball history. Casilla batted with no intention of batting, and made it abundantly clear that he was content to stand there and look around at things while the pitcher and catcher went about their business. Jose Ceda, a major league pitcher, walked Casilla on four pitches. The guy with the least interest in reaching base ever reached base, because the guy on the mound couldn't throw three uncontested strikes. He couldn't throw one.