Yeah, yeah, okay — yes, pitching six wonderful innings in relief of a starter that couldn’t make it out of the second, that’s the real story for Touki Toussaint. But a reliever pitching six innings isn’t even rare: it’s already happened once this season (Adrian Sampson, for the Rangers, in relief of a Drew Smyly who only lasted three frames). Here’s the real weird thing: Touki Toussaint got four, count ‘em, four plate appearances in this game.
Using the Baseball Reference Play Index, I queried the last time any relief pitcher got four plate appearances in a game. The most recent occurrence was 2001, when someone named Dicky Gonzalez did so. Fittingly, Gonzalez was pitching for the Mets at the time. We know what happened to cause Toussaint to enter the game so early and stick around so late — Gonzalez’ story is not too different. While actual game starter Glendon Rusch wasn’t as bad on September 19, 2001 as Sean Newcomb (five outs, a walk, a hit by pitch, five hits, and two runs before being pulled with two outs and the bases loaded), the Mets had apparently seen enough and inserted Dicky Gonzalez, who had recently been called up from the minors and hadn’t pitched in two weeks in his place. Gonzalez then spun six and two-thirds innings of shutout ball (four strikeouts, zero walks, six hits) as the Mets roared back to crush the Pirates, winning 9-2.
Toussaint went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts at the plate; Gonzalez managed a 1-for-4 day with two grounders, one that snuck through the infield for a single, as well as a fly out and a strikeout. But, despite making a few more relief appearances down the stretch for the Mets, Gonzalez then spent the next two years in the minors, and only made a few more relief appearances in 2004 with the then-Devil Rays before continuing his career in Japan further down the line. In any case, the torch has been passed — Touki Toussaint is now the only relief pitcher to get four plate appearances in a game in the past 18 years.
The other thing is that baseball has evolved, and this relative rarity really wasn’t that rare before. Toussaint is the only player, so far, to accomplish this feat in the 2010s; Gonzalez was the only one to do it in the 2000s; someone named Kelly Downs was the only person to do so in the 1990s. But, in the 1980s, it happened 10 times. In the 1970s, over 30 times. In the 1960s, over 75 times. In the 1950s and earlier, it happened over 100 times in a decade. Will Toussaint be the last pitcher to ever record four plate appearances in relief? Well, perhaps. If the universal designated hitter finds its way to baseball, then it seems pretty likely, at least until that rule is repealed in a drastic attempt to “fix baseball” further down the line.
But, there’s one more notable thing about Toussaint’s batting last night — he led off an inning four times, thanks to Alex Jackson making the last out of the inning four times ahead of him. As no bottom of the ninth was necessary, half of Atlanta’s half-innings came with Toussaint leading off. Unfortunately, situational splits like these aren’t as easy to parse with the Play Index (or I can’t figure out how to do it), so I can’t tell you when the last time was that a relief pitcher led off an inning for his team four or more times. Perhaps never. But, using play-by-play data going back to 2000, I can tell you that the most times any pitcher (i.e., including starters) has led off an inning was three — Stephen Strasburg did it as recently as August 30, 2017, and four others have done it over the last two decades as well. (Strasburg actually went 2-for-4 with a solo homer in that game, while pitching a complete game shutout over the Marlins, and led his team in hitting WPA for the contest.) So, it seems pretty likely that Toussaint was the only relief pitcher to lead off an inning four times in a very long while — perhaps ever?
This has been your regular installment of completely useless, arcane baseball trivia. You may now carry on with your Sunday.