MILWAUKEE -- They say that baseball is a game of inches because it’s true.
Just ask Brewers rookie Alec Bettinger.
Bettinger was literally an inch or two from a scoreless first inning, but instead matched the record for the most earned runs ever allowed in a Major League debut in Sunday’s 16-4 loss to the Dodgers at American Family Field.
With the roster decimated by injuries and the Brewers on Day 10 of 17 consecutive game days, Bettinger was asked to “wear it” for four innings to protect the rest of the pitching staff. He surrendered grand slams in each of the first two innings and 11 earned runs in all. Baseball has tracked earned runs in the National League since 1912 and in the American League since 1913, and Bettinger is only the second pitcher ever to allow that many in his debut; the other was Arnie Muñoz for the White Sox on June 19, 2004, against the Expos.
For as bad as Sunday went for the home team, which was in a 5-0 hole after one inning and 9-0 after two, the Brewers still took three of four games from the Dodgers in the series and hit the road to Philadelphia expecting to get Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain back from the injured list in the next couple of days.
“I've been punched in the mouth plenty of times in this game,” Bettinger said. “This game is going to humble you many, many times. Anybody who's played it for as long as we have here knows that. I'm just going to keep pushing forward. That's all I can do at this point.”
It was so close to being so different for Bettinger. In the first inning, he was having trouble throwing strikes and found himself with the bases loaded and two outs after a walk, a single and a hit batsman. But he nearly got out of the jam when Dodgers first baseman Matt Beaty hit a slow roller to the right of the pitcher’s mound that Bettinger swiped at on his way toward first base. Keston Hiura gobbled the rolling baseball and shoveled it to Bettinger, who was there in time. In his haste, however, he missed the bag by mere inches.
Beaty was safe on an RBI infield single, and the Dodgers cashed in three pitches later when AJ Pollock smashed a grand slam to make it 5-0.
“If he’s out, [Bettinger] gets to take a deep breath and just take everything in and relax on the bench; kind of process it and slow everything down,” said Brewers catcher Jacob Nottingham, who hit two home runs in his season debut to provide the day’s only bright spot. “But it didn’t happen that way, so we just had to work out of it. It’s a big play, but you know what? It was just one of those days.”
In the second inning, Bettinger had buzzard’s luck again. With two outs and the bases once again loaded, Beaty hit a grand slam that scraped over the right-field wall.
The expected batting average on a fly ball of that nature, according to Statcast?
It was .030.
But a home run is a home run, and this one counted like all the others, just like Bettinger’s pitching line went onto his permanent record without any mention of challenging circumstances which led the Brewers to leave the University of Virginia product -- their No. 23 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline -- in the game that long.
“We gave [Bettinger] a tough assignment today,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “Unfortunately, the ball in the first inning, we didn't get that out. It was just a weird play, but he gave us four innings, which got us through the game and puts us in good shape tomorrow. It didn't go well, but we go on to the next day.”
That context in mind, Bettinger couldn’t escape these unfortunate facts:
• Bettinger set the Brewers record for runs and earned runs allowed in a Major League debut. Ben Diggins set the previous mark in Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Cubs on Sept. 2, 2002, for an eventual 106-loss Brewers team when he allowed eight runs (seven earned).
• The Dodgers’ 11 hits off Bettinger were one shy of the Brewers’ record for a pitcher making his Major League debut. Gary Beare holds that one, and he set the mark in a complete-game, 17-4 victory over the Indians at County Stadium on Sept. 7, 1976. Beare scattered 12 hits.
• Bettinger became the first pitcher in the modern era (since 1900) to allow multiple grand slams in his Major League debut.
• Bettinger is the 14th pitcher to allow multiple slams in a game, and the first since Dillon Peters on April 7, 2018. The only other Brewers pitcher to allow multiple grand slams in an outing was Mike Fiers on April 21, 2015. Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier hit them in back-to-back innings; until Bettinger on Sunday, no pitcher in the Majors had served up slams in consecutive innings since then.
Beaty finished with seven RBIs for the Dodgers. Pollock had eight, matching the all-time record for a player at American Family Field.
What was Bettinger’s takeaway from a debut that didn’t go anything like he’d always dreamed?
“The fact that I competed,” he said. “I mean, they beat me. They kicked my butt. I've got to be better. But I mean, I competed with what I had today and left it all out there. That's the big takeaway from today.”