The 2019 season featured a plethora of fantastic performances. There were 31 individual games with at least five hits, 22 with three home runs, and 17 with six-plus RBIs. Starting pitchers tossed 25 nine-inning shutouts (including two no-hitters), and struck out at least a dozen batters on 73 occasions.
But not all of those games were unique.
There have been well over 200,000 games in Major League history, and we can access statistics for most of them, thanks to resources such as Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference. Yet players are still producing stat lines we’ve never seen before -- at least on record (since 1908).
So with 2019 winding down, here is a look back at 10 of those first-time performances from this year.
Sale the K machine
May 14 vs. Rockies: 7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 17 K
It wasn’t a great year for Chris Sale -- certainly not by his lofty standards. And on this night, he ended up with a no-decision as Boston fell in 11 innings. But even during a disappointing day, Sale showed why he’s still one of the most talented pitchers in the game, making a serious run at the hallowed 20-strikeout mark. He struck out six straight to start the game, had eight through three innings, and then picked up three K's apiece in the sixth and seventh before exiting with 108 pitches. He is the first pitcher to rack up 17 while finishing with only seven innings.
Hendricks paints a masterpiece
May 3 vs. Cardinals: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 81 pitches (63 strikes)
Few pitchers throw slower than Kyle Hendricks, but the Cubs righty puts the ball where he wants it, doesn’t walk many, avoids hard contact and gets quick outs. This afternoon game at Wrigley Field was a Hendricks classic. Despite not even approaching 90 mph, he completely shut down the Cubs’ NL Central rivals on his way to a “Maddux” (a shutout on fewer than 100 pitches). His 81 pitches were the fewest in a shutout in seven years, and Hendricks was the first pitcher on record -- consistent pitch count data goes back to 1988 -- to toss a shutout in so few pitches and with such a high strike rate (78%).
Cole fires up a gem
Sept. 8 vs. Mariners: 8 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 15 K
Gerrit Cole just made $324 million this offseason, thanks to performances such as this one. Cole breezed through eight innings on only 96 pitches, with a fourth-inning Shed Long solo homer into the Crawford Boxes accounting for the only baserunner against him. The Astros held a 13-0 lead by that point, but Cole had no trouble maintaining his focus in what became a 21-1 laugher. He joined Max Scherzer (2018) and Clayton Kershaw (‘14) as the only pitchers to combine 15-plus K's with no more than one baserunner allowed, but they both did it in nine-inning no-hitters.
An all-or-nothing game for JV
June 12 vs. Brewers: 7 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 15 K, 3 HR
Other than the fact that the Astros lost this game, 6-3, it was a pretty good encapsulation of Justin Verlander's season, in that he was basically unhittable -- unless the ball was hit over the fence. Ryan Braun, Yasmani Grandal and Eric Thames all smacked solo homers off Verlander, but otherwise, the Brewers went 1-for-22 with 15 strikeouts. It was the first time in MLB history that a pitcher struck out at least 15 while allowing at least three homers in a game. Verlander (2.58 ERA, 300 strikeouts) went on to win his second Cy Young Award, despite serving up 36 big flies.
Good news/bad news for Bauer
April 4 vs. Blue Jays: 7 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 6 BB, 8 K, HBP
By the end of 2019, Trevor Bauer had a 4.48 ERA and had been traded from the Indians to the Reds. But his season began in grand fashion for Cleveland. Bauer allowed one hit in his first start in Minnesota and then none in his second against the Blue Jays, with opponents going a combined 1-for-42. There was just one problem, though. Toronto’s baserunners against Bauer helped run his pitch count up to 117 through seven innings, giving manager Terry Francona no choice but to pull him with a no-hitter in progress. Bauer was the third pitcher to walk at least six, hit one, strike out at least eight and not give up a hit, but the first to do so in fewer than nine innings.
Devers is double trouble
Aug. 13 at Indians: 6-for-6, R, 4 2B, 3 RBI
At only 22 years old, Rafael Devers was a breakout star for the Red Sox in 2019. Only Nicholas Castellanos smacked more doubles than Devers (54), and no MLB player racked up more hard-hit balls (252), according to Statcast. The Boston third baseman combined those strengths in a 7-6, 10-inning victory at Progressive Field, notching the 111th six-hit game in the past 112 seasons, but the first with as many as four doubles. Three of those two-baggers -- and five of his six total knocks -- had exit velocities of 103 mph or higher.
A Biggio re-cycling plan
Sept. 17 at Orioles: 4-for-5, 3 R, 2B, 3B, HR, 4 RBI, 2 SB
In 2002, Hall of Famer Craig Biggio hit for the cycle. Seventeen years later, Cavan Biggio made them just the second father-son duo in MLB history to both accomplish the feat, and the Blue Jays rookie added some extra flourishes. The 24-year-old filled up the boxscore in an 8-5 win at Camden Yards, including with a two-run homer, and then a two-run triple in his last at-bat that helped seal the cycle and victory. He also swiped both second and third base, making him the second player to have multiple stolen bases in a cycle, and the first to add at least four RBIs.
Yuli gets bang for his buck
Aug. 7 vs. Rockies: 2-for-4, R, 2B, HR, 8 RBI
There were 271 players who came to the plate at least 100 times between July and August. The best of them -- by a wide margin -- was the Astros’ Yuli Gurriel (210 wRC+). Part of that sensational stretch was this performance, when Gurriel tied a franchise record and became only the ninth player on record to squeeze at least eight RBIs out of only two hits, and somehow was the first of those players to score just one run. How is that possible? Gurriel hit a three-run homer and a three-run double, and added a sacrifice fly and run-scoring groundout. He actually could have reached double-digit RBIs, but alas, popped up with two runners on base in his last at-bat.
Vargas has a blast off the bench
Sept. 24 vs. Cardinals: 4-for-6, R, 2B, HR, 2 RBI (as a PH)
In the bottom of the ninth inning, D-backs rookie Ildemaro Vargas came to the plate as a pinch-hitter against Andrew Miller, with Arizona trailing, 1-0. As it turns out, his night was just beginning. Vargas took Miller deep for a game-tying homer, igniting the fuse on one of the season’s wildest games. It didn’t end until 10 innings later, when Vargas’ two-out, bases-loaded, walk-off single won this six-hour, 53-minute affair in the 19th. He became the first player to enter a game as a pinch-hitter and go on to have at least six plate appearances, four hits and a homer.
Dietrich earns his runs the hard way
June 21 at Brewers: 0-for-1, 4 R, BB, 3 HBP
Few hitters took as much abuse in 2019 as the Reds’ Derek Dietrich, who was hit by 25 pitches, tied for second most in MLB. It’s nothing new for Dietrich, who has the most HBP in the game since 2016 (88) despite ranking 141st in plate appearances. On this occasion, Dietrich had been plunked twice by Milwaukee in the previous game, and the bruises didn’t stop there. HBP in the first, third and seventh innings (each off his padded right arm) all led to runs, and Dietrich also came home after walking in the eighth inning of an 11-7 victory. He was the first player to be hit three times and score four runs in the same game, and an additional HBP the next day set another record.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.