Monday, December 15, 2014

Record-Setting Streaks (Part V--Mark Buehrle and Yusmeiro Petit)

The pages of baseball history are cluttered with extraordinary pitching feats. In terms of sheer dominance, few come close to matching the performances turned in by Mark Buehrle and Yusmeiro Petit. During their record-setting scoreless innings streaks (discussed at length in my previous post), Don Drysdale and Orel Hershiser yielded more than two dozen hits apiece. Neither was as commanding as Petit when he retired 46 consecutive batters in 2014 and Buehrle when he mowed down 45 straight hitters during the 2009 campaign.

A big man at 6-foot-1, 250 pounds, Petit is currently property of the San Francisco Giants. Serving as a swingman, he routinely throws around 95 miles per hour. Though his lifetime numbers are rather pedestrian at best (19-26/ 4.76 ERA), he has shown sporadic flashes of brilliance during his seven years in the majors. The Venezuelan right-hander came within one out of a perfect game in September of 2013, coughing up a ninth inning hit to Eric Chavez of the Diamondbacks. Spending roughly equal portions of time as a starter, middle reliever and closer this past season, Petit etched his name into the record books. His incredible run began on July 22 in a shaky start that saw him retire the last batter he faced. He followed with six perfect relief appearances spanning 12.1 innings. After retiring the first eight Colorado hitters during a August 28 spot-start, he gave up a double to opposing pitcher Jordan Lyles and an RBI single to Charlie Blackman. Comparing his record-setting 2014 performance to his near-perfect game the year before, Petit said: "I was more relaxed this time. I concentrated a little bit more. I told myself I couldn't let the opportunity present itself and fall short again." Petit was a major contributor to the Giants' World Series run this year, logging 12.1 scoreless postseason innings before making an ineffective relief appearance in Game 6 against the Royals.

While Petit's record involved a patchwork of scattered appearances, Mark Beuhrle set the major league standard in consecutive starts. Unlike Petit, Buehrle has more than a dozen good seasons under his belt. Known as one of the fastest working pitchers in the majors, he has been known to finish games in under two hours--an oddity nowadays. Buehrle has five effective pitches in his arsenal, including a cut fastball and laboriously slow change up. He had everything working for him in 2009, when he mowed down 45 consecutive batters, breaking the record set by Jim Barr of the Giants in 1972. Barr's record (41) was tied by Buehrle's White Sox teammate Bobby Jenks in 2007.

Buehrle's impressive run began on July 18 versus the Orioles when he retired the last batter he faced. He followed with a perfect game on July 23 at U.S. Cellular Field. It was the eighteenth perfecto in major league history and an exciting one at that. In the top of the ninth, leadoff hitter Gabe Kapler his a towering fly ball to left center field. DeWayne Wise made a gravity-defying catch to rob Kapler of a homer. Only five batters worked the count full against Buehrle that day. In his next start, the brawny southpaw picked up right where he had left off, setting down the first 17 Minnesota hitters he faced. Buehrle remembered his record-setting moment fondly. "At the start of the inning, I looked down to the bullpen at Bobby [Jenks} and he's just laughing at me. When I got the one or two guys out, he threw his hat on the ground, acting [mad]. Then the whole bullpen started clapping for me." In the sixth inning, the Twins finally scored a run. They added 4 in the seventh to knock Buehrle out of the game. After his crowning achievement, Beuhrle went 2-7 with a 4.78 ERA. He finished the 2009 slate at 13-10/ 3.84.   

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