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Position Players Earning Wins: A Retrospective

chris davis dubs

Pitching wins may be the worst statistic of anything ever, but they have a special place in the hearts of most pitchers. And as useless as they are, pitching wins recorded by position players are still pretty rare and interesting events. So, in an effort to spread the coolness, the events leading up to the three position-player dubs of the past fifty-plus years have been summarized here.

For the purposes of this article, the players listed need to have logged their appearances later than 1967. Position roles were far more fluid in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and two-way players were far more common 120 years ago than they are today. As interesting and relevant to the average baseball fan as it is that (checks) uh, High Pockets Kelly logged a win for the New York Giants in 1917, the Internet doesn’t have much information about it. And this article needs to be less than 10,000 words long. For a complete database of non-pitcher pitching appearances, click here.

Rocky Colavito

rocky colavito position player winIn 1968, slugging outfielder Rocky Colavito was 34 and finishing up his career with a one-season stint in Yankee pinstripes. Due to rainouts, and avaricious ownership (days with doubleheaders brought in significantly more money than days with single games, for obvious reasons), the Yankees were staring down a brutal stretch of eight games in five days. Three of those days featured doubleheaders. August 23-28 was going to be a historic slog.

The marathon kicked off at 5:06 PM on August 23, when the Yankees welcomed the Detroit Tigers to the Bronx. The first game went down fairly normally, as the Yankees won 1-2 on the back of a complete game by eventual Rookie of the Year Stan Bahnsen. The second game was where things started to go awry.

Game Two ran for nineteen innings before it was called due to an American League rule that games couldn’t continue past one o’clock in the morning. The game was still tied, 3-3. For some reason, the teams couldn’t resume play from the nineteenth inning at a later date, and officials declared that the game would have to be replayed from the beginning. A “makeup game” was scheduled for August 25, immediately after the game already scheduled for that day. Another doubleheader was in the cards for the Yankees.

This ruling presented New York manager Ralph Houk with a problem- he was flat out of pitchers. He’d burned through all his best relievers during the nineteen-inning slog, and there were two games between the nineteen-inning monstrosity and the rematch on August 25. Houk was almost certainly going to have to ask one of his position players to throw at some point in the next two days.

By the fourth inning of the August 25 makeup game, the Tigers had hung five runs on starting pitcher Steve Barber and Colavito was on his way to the mound. Colavito was wild, but he threw hard. He walked two, gave up one hit and notched one strikeout in his 2 2/3 scoreless innings. While he was on the mound, the Yankees took the lead with a run in the fourth and added five more in the sixth. Since Colavito was pitching during the Yankees’ rally, he got the win. He’d be the last position player to accomplish the feat for over thirty years.

Brent Mayne

brent mayne position player winLike Rocky Colavito before him, Brent Mayne was an emergency pitcher. Mayne was a career backup catcher who became Colorado’s primary starter in 2000. Steroid-era Coors Field didn’t have a humidor, and has been described as “the deepest pit of pitching despair in baseball history.” For proof of this, just look at Mayne’s stats with San Francisco in 1999. In spacious Candlestick Park, his .808 OPS was good for an All-Star caliber 111 OPS+. Meanwhile, his nearly identical .799 OPS at 2000 Coors Field was only enough for an 85 OPS+. Coors Field in 2000 was an actual house of mirrors, where baseball was warped into a barely-recognizable version of itself.

On August 22, 2000, the Rockies had churned through seven pitchers going into the twelfth inning of their tilt against the Atlanta Braves. Starter Masato Yoshii was bounced after five innings of four-run ball, and a parade of relievers followed. Three of them pitched for less than one inning, which proved to be a… regrettable decision. John Wasdin was the last available reliever on Colorado’s roster- and he was ejected after plunking Andres Galarraga (the very first batter he faced). The circumstances of the ejection- two outs, full count, tie game- were absolutely ridiculous. Manager Buddy Bell was suddenly staring down the same quandary that Ralph Houk faced thirty-two years ago- who’s going to take the mound with no pitchers available? Without any pitchers waiting in the wings, Bell turned to his catcher. And Brent Mayne took the mound in probably the very worst pitching environment in baseball history.

The lineup that Mayne had to pitch to was stacked. After pitcher Tom Glavine, Mayne had to face down Rafael Furcal, Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones (and Walt Weiss, but he was much less scary than Furcal, Jones and Jones.). Mayne induced a Glavine groundout and a Weiss flyout before giving up a single to Furcal. Then, in a display of clutch pitching that would make Mariano Rivera jealous, Mayne walked Andruw Jones before getting Chipper Jones to ground out. The game was still tied, and Brent Mayne would be the pitcher of record if the Rockies could pull out a victory.

In the bottom of the inning, John Rocker gave up two singles before being replaced by Stan Belinda. Belinda K’d second baseman Terry Shumpert before intentionally walking Jeff Cirillo to face Adam Melhuse (who came in to pinch-hit for the pitcher- Brent Mayne). Melhuse singled to left to score Neifi Perez, and the rest is history. Rocker got hit with the loss, and Brent Mayne became the first position player to win a game since Rocky Colavito.

Chris Davis

chris davis position player winA visual representation of Chris Davis‘s career arc wouldn’t be out of place in a Jackson Pollock painting. He started out in the majors as a AAAA-type “project player,” became a dinger-mashing MVP candidate, then turned into one of the very worst baseball players in recent memory. Maybe his career arc would just be a parabola. In any case, Davis’s time in the big leagues has been a wild ride. And for one evening in Boston, Chris Davis was a relief ace.

On May 6, 2012, the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles were on opposite trajectories. The Sox were 11-16, and would go on to suffer the ignominy of a 69-93 season. The Orioles, meanwhile, were on a 19-9 tear to start the season, and would eventually lock up a playoff berth with a 93-69 record.

Unlike Colavito’s appearance, crazy scheduling wasn’t to blame for Davis’s moment on the mound, and unlike Mayne’s appearance, there wasn’t an inexplicable ejection. The game just went on for a really long time. The first pitch went out at 1:36 PM Boston time, and the game didn’t stop until 7:42 PM. The Sox bombed starter Tommy Hunter off the mound after 4.1 innings, and seven Baltimore relievers (not counting Davis) followed. By the time Jim Johnson had finished his second inning of work, it was the sixteenth inning, the game was tied at five runs a side, and manager Buck Showalter was out of pitchers. In desperation, he sent Chris Davis out to the mound.

Chris Davis the hitter had a lousy day at the plate (0-8, five strikeouts and a GIDP), but Chris Davis the pitcher was plenty good. He threw two innings and allowed two hits and one walk, along with two strikeouts. Both of those strikeouts (of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Adrian Gonzalez) came on Davis’ changeup, which was positively filthy.

The Orioles notched three runs in the top of the seventeenth against Darnell McDonald, another position player. No doubt glowing with confidence thanks to his new lead, Davis gave up an infield hit to Ryan Sweeney and then walked Dustin Pedroia. He then struck out Adrian Gonzalez and induced a game-ending double play from his counterpart, McDonald. McDonald got the loss and Chris Davis, first baseman and DH, won the game. If Davis has another season like his last two, the Orioles ought to take a look at him as a reliever.

Links and Videos

To see the game logs for all these games, click any of the links below.

Rocky Colavito: https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA196808251.shtml

Brent Mayne: https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/COL/COL200008220.shtml

Chris Davis: https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS201205060.shtml

To read a more detailed account of the Colavito game, click here.

To read a more detailed account of the Brent Mayne game, click here.

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