One of MLB's rarest feats already happened in '23

May 13th, 2023

If ’s walk-off bunt to give the Royals a 4-3 win over the White Sox on Thursday afternoon at Kaufmann Stadium seemed like one of those plays you don't see very often, well that’s because ... it really isn’t common. It’s not common in today’s baseball, nor that of 40 years ago. Or ever, really.

Fermin's bunt against Reynaldo López to drive in Nick Pratto from third base in the bottom of the ninth inning was the first of its kind this season, according to Baseball-Reference. Michael A. Taylor ended the Twins' win over the White Sox on April 11 with a bunt, but the runner was on second and scored with the help of a throwing error by the third baseman.

In the Royals' -- and Fermin's -- case, it was all to their credit.

With runners on the corners and one out, Kansas City manager Matt Quatraro put down the bunt sign. Fermin executed on the first offering from López, who tried unsuccessfully to field the ball cleanly as Pratto scored the winning run.

“In my mind, I thought, ‘I have to do it,’” Fermin said.

Of course, it's one thing to think about it. It's another to do it. Especially against a pitcher who throws as hard as López, whose average fastball this year is 98.8 mph. The one he threw to the Fermin was 98.3 mph, not an easy pitch to square up and bunt on.

"To be able to execute that bunt well was really impressive," Quatraro later acknowledged, according to the Associated Press.

Still excited on the field after the win, the first thing Fermin said during an interview on the Royals' television broadcast was that it was “my first bunt to win a game, and I'm very excited.”

There is nothing strange about the fact that it was Fermin’s first. Quite the contrary. Winning a game with a walk-off safety squeeze is something that very few players in the Major Leagues have done. Far fewer than you probably imagine.

According to Baseball-Reference, in the last five seasons, there have been just three recorded instances of walk-off bunts. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, it has happened 20 times in the Majors between 2004 and 2023 (20 seasons). Magneuris Sierra, while playing for the Angels, had executed the last one until Fermin did so on Thursday:

Among other notable walk-off bunts in that 2004-23 period are the following:

• Ender Inciarte against the Mets on April 21, 2018

• Jon Lester as a pinch-hitter with two strikes in the bottom of the 12th inning against the Mariners on July 31, 2016

• Melvin Mora against the Yankees on Sept. 28, 2007

• Endy Chávez versus the Braves on April 24, 2007

A little earlier than that timeframe, in October of 2003, we saw this one from Ramon Hernandez in Game 1 of the 2003 American League Division Series between his A's and the Red Sox.

That was one of only three in postseason history. The others were by Paul Blair for the Orioles in Game 1 of the 1969 AL Championship Series against the Twins and this one by Carlos Guillen with the Mariners in Game 3 of the 2000 ALDS against the White Sox.

If saying that it has happened only once a year for two decades is not enough to put in context what Fermin did, consider that in the last 20 seasons, there have been 63 no-hitters and 215 three-home run games (including three four-homer games). And in that same span, there have been 3,999 walk-off wins of any kind. But only 20 with a walk-off safety squeeze.

By now, you're probably once again tempted to say that today's baseball is all about big swings and home runs, that nobody can put down a decent bunt anymore, that back in the day they would do safety squeezes all the time and that those guys knew how to play small ball ... not so fast, folks.

According to Baseball-Reference, from 1914 through these first few weeks of the 2023 season, a 109-year period, there are just 120 known instances of walk-off bunts -- a frequency of barely more than one per season -- by 112 different players. (The Elias Sports Bureau said it is impossible to know how many there have been in AL/NL history due to a lack of play-by-play data and/or specific data on this type of hit.)

Eight players did it twice, but no one did it three times. The last player to execute two walk-off bunts was Frank White, first in 1975 and then in 1982. For which team? Freddy Fermin’s team, the Royals, of course.

Walk-off bunts, per decade, according to Baseball-Reference*
2020-23: 3
2010-19: 11
2000-09: 9
1990-99: 12
1980-89: 15
1970-79: 11
1960-69: 4
1950-59: 11
1940-49: 16
1930-39: 10
1920-29: 5

*Only cases in which there were no defensive errors and the batter was credited with an RBI.

It's wonderful that nowadays, it's so easy to look up a play, a pitch, or a walk-off bunt, and watch it as many times as we want on our phones, computers, tablets, etc. Because otherwise -- if baseball history is any guide -- to see another feat like Fermin's, we will probably have to wait until 2024.