Every Major Leaguer has something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. Especially these hitters.
Whether it was a ball that only fell because it was lost in the lights, or a hit so soft you’d never imagine it finding a hole, or even a home run that was only a home run because of an unfortunate assist from an outfielder, the 2020 MLB season had some amazing lucky hits.
They all still count. Here are 11 hitters with something extra to be thankful for this year.
Thankful for: Hollywood twilight
Hernández hit exactly one triple in 2020, and what a triple it was — a sky-high popup to left field that the Giants’ Hunter Pence lost in the twilight at Dodger Stadium. Pence could only hold out his arms in confusion as the ball plopped onto the grass maybe 30 feet behind him. These things happen to an outfielder sometimes … but Pence’s miscue couldn’t have come at a worse time. That’s because Johnny Cueto had a no-hitter going through five innings when it happened, and Hernández’s “triple” ended it.
Thankful for: Slump-busting swinging bunts
Lowe was a star for the Rays all season, but when the playoffs came around, he went into as bad of a slump as slumps get. The second baseman was in an 0-for-22 skid when he stepped to the plate in the fourth inning of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. Astros lefty Framber Valdez spun a good curveball just below the strike zone, and Lowe squibbed it out in front of home plate. The ball left the bat at just 46.5 mph — less than half the exit velocity needed to be a hard-hit ball (95-plus mph). But Lowe’s swinging bunt was perfectly placed between Valdez and catcher Martín Maldonado, and Lowe beat it out for a skid-snapping infield single. He went on to homer four times through the ALCS and World Series.
Thankful for: Position player lob-balls
LeMahieu doesn’t need any help to get hits. The AL MVP Award finalist won the MLB batting crown in 2020, hitting .364. But he got some help anyway on Sept. 15, in the form of position player Santiago Espinal throwing absolute lobs on the mound for the Blue Jays in a lopsided game. LeMahieu got a 48.7 mph lollipop in his wheelhouse and crushed it into the left-field stands at Yankee Stadium, setting an amusing record in the process: It was the slowest pitch hit for a home run in the entire pitch-tracking era, which goes back to 2008.
Thankful for: Great American dimensions
Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park is one of the most hitter-friendly in the Major Leagues, and the leadoff homer Happ hit there on Aug. 29 was its hitter-friendliest home run of the year. Happ lofted a fly ball down the right-field line that came down perfectly at the base of the foul pole. With a launch angle of 46 degrees, it was the second-highest home run hit in MLB in 2020, and with a projected distance of just 331 feet, it was the fourth-shortest hit over the fence. Great American is one of the only ballparks where Happ’s ball would have been gone, along with a few of the other shortest right-field corners in baseball like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.
Thankful for: Eloy’s outfield antics
Give Buxton an inch on the basepaths and he’ll take a mile, as White Sox left fielder Eloy Jiménez found out the hard way on Sept. 14. First, Eloy got turned around on Buxton’s line drive and let it sail over his head, a ball that had a 95% catch probability. Then, as the ball lodged at the base of the wall, he threw his hands up, requesting the umpires call the play dead. But the umpires didn’t. Buxton motored around the bases for an apparent inside-the-park home run, while Jiménez finally plucked the ball from the warning track and relayed it to the infield. The umpires eventually put Buxton back on second base with a ground-rule double, but if not for Eloy’s creative defense, we would’ve missed all the fun. Oh, and it all ended well for Buxton, because he hit a real inside-the-park home run the very next day.
Thankful for: Who got it? Nobody got it
Yastrzemski has the honor of having the highest hit of 2020. On Sept. 26 against the Padres, he skied a popup nearly straight up into the infield at Oracle Park, with a launch angle of 78 degrees. Picture that. A 90 degree launch angle would be straight vertical off the bat; 78 degrees is not far off. The ball was in the air for six full seconds, plenty of time for someone to catch it. Nobody did. Pitcher Zach Davies simply stood in front of the mound and craned his neck to stare at the ball. Infielders Mitch Moreland, Jake Cronenworth and Fernando Tatis Jr. converged (there were only three of them because San Diego was playing a four-outfielder shift), plus catcher Austin Nola, but the ball dropped untouched between all of them, with Davies doing more harm than good as he kind of got in the way.
Thankful for: Too many outfielders
Here’s another hit that was only a hit because of a four-outfielder defense. Biggio, an extreme air-ball hitter, faces that kind of shift more often than anyone else (basically because he plays in the Rays’ division … weird shifts are always the Rays). On Aug. 24, he used it to his advantage. Biggio saw the left side of the Tampa Bay infield wide open due to the fourth outfielder, and he got a perfect outside-corner slider from Blake Snell that he was able to guide right through it. Biggio’s exceptional bat control netted him a freebie single thanks to the Rays’ defensive experiment.
Amazing bat control by Cavan Biggio to beat the Rays’ 4-outfielder shift pic.twitter.com/LlLs3hOQdZ
— David Adler (@_dadler) August 24, 2020
Thankful for: Excuse-me swings
Most extra-base hits are hard-hit. This one was not. Villar ripped … OK, floated … the softest extra-base hit of the 2020 season on Aug. 14 against the Braves. Villar’s inside-out swing off an up-and-in helicopter slider from Kyle Wright produced an exit velocity of just 49.0 mph — 46 mph shy of hard contact — but that was somehow the perfect amount to get the ball over Austin Riley’s head at third base and keep it fair just inside the chalk. Adam Duvall had to chase the ball all the way in from left field, and Villar had himself an easy double.
Thankful for: Cue shots and green grass
Franco got himself a funny little hit on Aug. 19 against the Reds at Kauffman Stadium, when he sliced a cue shot into an empty right side of the infield against a full shift. Franco’s ball was weakly hit, less than 60 mph off the bat, but it had so much spin on it that it dwindled on the outfield grass behind second base. Second baseman Josh VanMeter, who was positioned on the shortstop side of second base, eventually jogged over and scooped the ball up as it came to a stop.
Maikel Franco’s cue shot through a vacant right side of the infield dies on the grass, shifted Josh VanMeter jogs over and scoops it up pic.twitter.com/cu6HnbDVE5
— David Adler (@_dadler) August 19, 2020
Thankful for: An unexpected outfield assist
Valaika got a free home run when veteran Braves outfielder Nick Markakis made a very un-veteran-like play. Markakis was positioned under Valaika’s drive to deep right field at Camden Yards on Sept. 14 … but he didn’t catch it. Markakis squeezed his glove at the exact wrong time, and he ended up knocking the ball over the fence, then swiveled his head around in confusion at what had just happened. But if you think doing that once is embarrassing …
Thankful for: Jo Adell glove slaps
Adell earned himself a dubious reputation in his first big league callup as “the outfielder who knocks balls over the fence.” Yes, Adell did that twice, gifting runs to two different opponents with his outfield hijinks. Ríos got the only full home run credit on Sept. 26 at Dodger Stadium, when Adell went back on his drive to center field, tried to make a leaping catch at the wall and knocked the ball over the fence by mistake.
But that wasn’t the first time it happened. The play that made all the headlines happened on Aug. 9, when the Rangers’ Nick Solak ended up with a rare four-base error in the scorecard. How did that happen? Adell misplayed a routine fly ball to the warning track in right field and popped the ball over the wall when it would have been nowhere close to a homer.
Solak might have a little less to be thankful for than Ríos, since he actually had a home run taken off his stat line. But he can still be thankful for a run on the scoreboard and for being at the center of one of the weirdest plays of the year.