Back when he was the manager of the Yankees during their long run of success in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Joe Torre used to console struggling players with the story of the 1975 game where he set a major league record by grounding into four double plays in one game. On Wednesday night, Nationals centerfielder Michael Taylor could have used some of Torre’s counsel, for he had perhaps the worst game by a position player in at least a century.
Playing at Dodger Stadium, Taylor, the Nationals’ 25-year-old centerfielder, batted leadoff and struck out in each of his five plate appearances. He whiffed against 19-year-old rookie starter Julio Urias three times, leaving a man on second base with two outs in the second inning, then whiffed with runners on first and second and one out in both the seventh against reliever Casey Fein, and in the ninth against Pedro Baez. Despite his woes, the Nationals carried a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth, but after a one-out single by Howie Kendrick, Taylor misplayed a Yasiel Puig base hit into a “Little League” home run that gave the Dodgers a 4–3 walkoff win and a three-game sweep of the NL East leaders.
Puig was credited with a single, with the other three bases coming via Taylor’s miscue. It was the centerfielder’s first error of the year, and the first time this season that any player has struck out five times in one game.
That’s bad enough, but via the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index, senior editor Ted Keith and I found that dating back to 1913, 84 players have struck out five times in a game when their team lost, with just three other instances in which the platinum sombero-wearer compounded his woes with an error. One of those, by the Dodgers' Darryl Strawberry on May 1, 1991, came in the first inning of a 9–3 blowout, and while it led to an unearned run, didn't have nearly the impact on the outcome that Taylor's play did. In the other two games, the error loomed larger.
The first of those games came on April 15, 1966 in Cleveland, when Red Sox third baseman George Scott, playing just the third game of his major league career, went 0-for-5 with a walk and five whiffs against the Indians. He struck out three times against heat-throwing Sam McDowell and once apiece against relievers Sonny Siebert and Steve Hargan, leaving a total of nine runners on base, a worse night than Taylor in that respect. His error came in the bottom of the sixth inning, which the Red Sox entered leading 4–0. Starter Jerry Stephenson loaded the bases via two walks and a single, scoring a run. Manager Billy Herman gave him the hook in favor of reliever Guido Grilli, who reloaded the bases with a walk and then departed in favor of Jim Lonborg, who surrendered a single and a sacrifice fly, trimming the score to 4–3. Lonborg notched a strikeout, but an error on Larry Brown’s groundball by shortstop Rico Petrocelli reloaded the bases. Pinch-hitter Jim Landis then singled, and all three runs came around to score due in part to a throwing error by Scott, giving the Indians a 6–4 lead, though the runs were already unearned due to Petrocelli’s error. The Red Sox wound up re-taking the lead with three runs in the next half-inning, but the Indians re-tied the game in the eighth and won it in the 12th.
Don’t weep for Scott, though. Within a week, he embarked upon a stretch of 11 homers in 21 games, which made him the fastest player to nine, 10 and 11 homers in his career, withstanding a challenge from Rockies rookie Trevor Story earlier this season. During that stretch, Scott shifted over to first base, a position where he would win eight Gold Gloves in a 14-year career while making three All-Star teams. Taylor should be so lucky.
As for the other game, on July 6, 1995 in the Astrodome, Padres shortstop Andujar Cedeno struck out in all five of his plate appearances, the first three against Shane Reynolds, the last two against Todd Jones. He only left one runner on base, however, and despite doing so in the eighth inning, the Padres rallied for four runs to break a scoreless tie. The Astros scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth, but the Padres carried the lead into the ninth, and brought on future all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman.
Hoffman retired the first two batters he faced, then yielded a single to James Mouton and an RBI double to Craig Biggio, cutting the lead to 4-3. He was poised to record his 37th career save when Jeff Bagwell hit a grounder to Cedeno, whose throwing error allowed Biggio to score the tying run. Hoffman retired Derek Bell on a popup to escape the jam, but the Astros wound up winning in 12 innings.
Given that neither Scott's nor Cedeno's errors were as central to the outcome as Taylor's, it’s fair to say that the poor Nationals centerfielder stands alone with arguably the worst game by a position player on record, or at least the most humiliating. As Torre might remind him, the good news is that there's nowhere to go but up.