Ten years ago today, Alex Cora had an 18-pitch AB -- that ended in a home run
In 2013, the average pitches thrown per inning was 16. Ten years ago today, the Dodgers' Alex Cora smashed that in just one at-bat.
Facing the Cubs' Matt Clement in the bottom of the seventh inning, Cora worked the count to 2-1 before fouling off 13 pitches in a row, never seeing ball three during the plate appearance. On the 18th pitch of the affair, Cora, never known for his power, blasted a home run over the right-field wall. Amusingly enough, at the start of the at-bat, Vin Scully says about Cora's two previous fly outs, "when you don't have power, a couple of fly balls is pretty much wasted opportunity."
While Cora's at-bat is one of the longest in recent memory, the modern record belongs to Ricky Gutierrez. On June 26, 1998, Gutierrez, then with the Astros, stepped to the plate against baseball's greatest gift to humankind, Bartolo Colon, and promptly swung and missed on two pitches. Despite the inauspicious start, Gutierrez would somehow see 18 more pitches, fouling off 14 of them, before striking out swinging on Colon's 20th offering of the at-bat.
And even that is only the record since pitch-by-pitch records have been collected. According to a 1940 issue of Baseball Digest, Luke Appling of the White Sox fouled off a miraculous 24 pitches against Red Ruffing of the Yankees. Said Appling, "Pretty soon, after 24 fouls, old Red could hardly lift his arm and I walked. That's when they took him out of the game and he cussed me all the way to the dugout."
While the chances of there being a new record set this year are low, you may want to place your prop bets on the Indians' Carlos Santana. He's seeing a Major League-leading 4.78 pitches per plate appearance so far in 2014.
(h/t Jon Weisman)