June 26, 1998 – Bartolo Colon and Ricky Gutierrez Battle Through 20-Pitch At Bat
On a hot Friday night, the Astros were visiting Jacobs Field for an interleague matchup. Both were talented clubs coming into mid-season form. The Indians were 9 games ahead in the Central Division, while Houston led the NL central by five games.
The Indians were throwing ace Bartolo Colon against the Astros Pete Schourek. Colon faced his first challenge in the top of the third. He walked Ricky Gutierrez to start the inning. Brad Ausmus the singled to center. A Craig Biggio single plated Gutierrez. Bill Spiers was up next. Spiers grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, but Ausmus managed to score from third, putting the Astros up 2-0.
The Tribe went for fundamentals in the bottom of the third. Omar Vizquel had a leadoff single, stole second, was bunted over to third by Shawon Dunston, and driven home by a Manny Ramirez single.
Colon continued to pitch both efficiently and effectively. Through seven innings he had given up only 5 hits and 1 walk on 84 total pitches.
In the bottom of the seventh with Ramirez on first and two outs, the Indians got a rally going. Manny stole second and then Houston reliever Mike Magnante walked Jim Thome. Sandy Alomar drove in Ramirez with a line drive double into center field. David Justice walked to load the bases.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Mark Whiten drove Magnante’s fourth pitch through the left side of the infield to score Thome and Alomar. Travis Fryman struck out to end the inning, but the Indians led 4-2.
Astros shortstop Ricky Gutierrez stepped in against Colon to lead of the top of the eighth. Gutierrez swung and missed at the first pitch. On the second pitch, Gutierrez took another big cut. The bat slipped out of his hands and spiraled into the stands for the second strike. He fouled off the third pitch, and things began to get interesting. The fourth pitch was a ball outside. Gutierrez fouled off another, and then pitch number six was another ball outside. Now on a 2-2 count Gutierrez fouled off six straight pitches. Pitch thirteen was a ball in the dirt and the crowd was beginning to buzz. Gutierrez then fouled off another six straight pitches.
At this point, Bartolo had thrown more pitches to the Houston shortstop than he had thrown in any other inning of this game (17 in the third was the largest pitch count). On the twentieth pitch of the at-bat, Gutierrez struck out swinging. The crowd gave the pair a standing ovation. A quick check with Elias Sports Bureau revealed that this was the longest at-bat for which there were reliable records.
In 2012, High Heat Stats analyzed the averages pitches per plate appearance. In 1998, the average pitches per plate appearance was 3.7. This record-breaking at bat was 5.4 times longer than average.
Paul Assenmacher matched up with Sean Barry to start the top of the ninth, and then Michael Jackson recorded the last three outs of the game and was awarded the save.
In 2018, Brandon Belt of the Giants and Angels pitcher Jaime Barrias surpassed this record with a 21-pitch at bat and eventually flied out.