It’s possible to trace a year through home runs—through baseball’s most explicit displays of strength and glory. But it’s more enlightening to track a year through pitchers reactions to those home runs. How does the experience of giving up a moonburst translate physically? What can we see in the eyes of a man who just watched the night dissolve? Where does frustration turn into pain? When does pain turn into apathy? To wit: If the year’s most dramatic home run tells us something about baseball, well, the pitcher’s reaction to giving up the home run tells us something about the human condition.
Here’s the year in pitcher reactions:
The one that was hit the hardest
Game: Cubs at Yankees, June 11
Stir: Giancarlo Stanton
Throws: Matt Swarmer
An explanation feels almost superfluous here. You can find out that this was Matt Swarmer’s reaction to Giancarlo Stanton hitting a 119.8 mph baseball — the hardest hit home run of the season — or you can simply look at his position here. The picture communicates as much as the statistics.
But there is actually something else worth knowing. This game not only gave us the hardest hit home run of the year, but also the most home runs allowed by one pitcher in one day: children rookie gave up six Yankees dingers on this fine Saturday. (All were solo shots; Swarmer allowed just one hit in five innings, that is not a home run.) This Stanton shot was only the second of the day. That left a 1–0 deficit and a 2–0 deficit; in and of itself it was of course frustrating, but not automatically condemning. There was no reason to believe that a loss was inevitable or that a nightmare performance was in the offing.
And yet this was the only home run that sparked a reaction that this. When Swarmer allowed his fourth homer of the day (to Jose Trevino) or fifth (Aaron Judge) or sixth (Anthony Rizzo), his reaction was minimal, sometimes a glance over the fence to see it fly, sometimes not even that. The later home runs should theoretically have seemed more damaging: the sixth homer of the night is worse than the second. But it was just this one, Stanton’s blast, 119.8 mph, with a crack from the bat that made itself painfully abundantly clear, seeing Swarmer react like that. It was only this kind of power that made him squirm to testify. If the pitcher’s reaction is usually separate from his delivery — two distinct movements separated by a stroke of processing — here they were but one. Swarmer delivered the pitch, and before he could straighten up, before he could complete the motion, he knew that he knew that he had to turn and see what he had done.
The one who flew the farthest
Game: Diamondbacks at Rockies, Sept. 9
Pipes: CJ Cron
Throwing: Keynan Middleton
This type of game seems like it exists to be forgotten. (The above slogans include “September”, “Diamondbacks” and “Rockies.” Not just one of those words: All three!) Yet so much of the joy of baseball is how these games are often the ones that contain the weirdest moments. Like CJ Cron hitting a ball an estimated 504 feet— the only home run this year to go longer than 500 feet. It’s not immediately obvious here from the catcher or umpire or scattered fans or even from Cron. But it’s clear from Keynan Middleton. Just look: Cron still has one foot in the box , yet Middleton has turned completely around, shoulders square to the outfield, arms hanging by his side, gaze upward.
He is not so much a pitcher at this moment as a witness. The other people in this scene are caught in moments of processing – on the road to understanding. But Middleton knows what he sees. He can only watch it go.
The One That Flew the Furthest: Playoff Edition
Game: Phillies at Padres, Oct. 18
Batter: Kyle Schwarber
Pitcher: Yu Darvish
Maybe it seems hard to believe Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber’s blast into the upper deck in Game 1 of the NLCS was not longest home run of the year. In the moment, it certainly seemed not only the longest of the year, but perhaps the longest ever. Everything about it seemed impossible. But at an estimated 488 feet, it somehow finished only sixth.
Which – the longest hit, part of the top five, in the top 10, what’s the difference at that point? Padres right-hander Yu Darvish knew what was going on here. He didn’t have to look at it. Why bother turning around? The result was obvious. There was no point in looking at the details. Ball, please: Next batter.
The One off the Hardest Pitch
Game: Giants at Diamondbacks, July 5
Pipes: Daulton Varsho
Pitcher: Camilo Doval
The composition of this one looks a little different. It’s the only example here where the opponent’s delivery immediately zoomed in on the pitcher’s face. But they had good reason. Giants right-hander Camilo Doval throws hard. He has a cutter that sits at 99 mph and regularly goes even faster. He was one of only nine pitchers this year to throw more than 150 pitches at over 100 mph. Of course, that left a lot of room under 100 mph – he uses his slider more than the cutter – but of the triple-digit pitches, well, they usually worked for him. Doval understands how difficult it is to do anything in 101 mph heat. Hitters do it too.
Except for this July day in Arizona, when Doval threw 101.8 mph and somehow Daulton Varsho sent it over the wall. No one wanted to turn a more difficult pitch into a home run this year. It was a triumph for Varsho. But it was a recreation of reality for Doval. And the broadcast knew exactly where to go.
The one with the highest loan-to-value index
Game: Marlins at Phillies, June 15
Pipes: Garrett Stubbs
Pitcher: Tanner Scott
1–0 ball game. Bottom of the ninth. Two on. Two out. Two strikes. The light-hitting backup catcher is at the plate.
Do you know what you’re doing when you give up a home run there? What do you do when you realize you’ve become the faceless pitcher from the exhibit of a childhood backyard fantasy? You do exactly what Marlins pitcher Tanner Scott did it here. You start to get off the pile. It’s over, buddy. Phillies catcher Garrett Stubbs has achieved his walk-off dream here. You played the part no one wants to play. But no one says you have to stay and watch.
The One on the First Pitch
Game: Angels at Rangers, April 15
Pipes: Shohei Ohtani
Pitcher: Matt Bush
There were 22 home runs this year that came on the first pitch of the game. (Not the first disc to appear – the first pitch.) But this was the first of them, as well as the first home run of the year for Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani, and it produced a perfect reaction from Rangers pitcher Matt Bush. He didn’t look back at it. He simply looked up.
The one that sealed the World Series
Game: Phillies at Astros, Nov. 5
Pipes: Yordan Alvarez
Pitcher: José Alvarado
The crowd makes this moment obvious: As Yordan Alvarez watches his star-studded hit, processing what he’s just done, Houston fans reveal the frenetic, joyfully deranged energy that registers World Series-winning home run. They capture exactly what is happening here.
And the pitcher, José Alvarado, catches what you want him to. What do you see? Perhaps there is denial in the attitude; anger in the mouth hanging open; negotiations in the left hand, brought to the chest, grasping for nothing; depression of the eyes; acceptance in the glove, finally, facing down. Maybe it’s something else. He can be a mirror, a void or an answer. There is so much in this picture that is obvious. Alvarado is not.
The one who made history
Game: Yankees at Rangers, October 4
Batter: Aaron Judge
Pitcher: Jesús Tinoco
On one hand, yes, Jesús Tinoco made himself the answer to a trivia question by giving up No. 62 to Aaron Judge. But on the other? There are dozens and dozens of versions of this highlight. There are some where the camera stays fixed on Judge as he makes his way around the bases. There are some where it follows the ball. There are some where it darts into the dugout, into the crowd, over the face of Roger Maris, Jr., watching his father’s record finally fall after weeks of watching Judge all over the American League. There are some who cut up parts of all of the above. And you know what? Not a single one focuses on Tinoco. His full reaction does not appear in any of these. In the future, when people enter his name on bar trivia and for stadium scoreboard contests, they won’t know what he did after the dinger. We see Tinoco turn to trace the ball’s arc into the stands—a witness to the history he just set the stage for—and we don’t see him again until he settles in to finish the inning.
Whatever he did in the meantime belongs to him alone.