Welcome back to Gnats of the Week! It’s the series where I take everything that happened in Major League Baseball this week and single out the most brilliantly stupid performances to be enshrined in eternal (until next week) glory.
What is a gnat, you ask? Good question. Gnats are the little guys, the washed-up utilitymen, unheralded prospects, and unproven entities who seem to come out of nowhere to make their mark on a game. If you watch a lot of baseball (and if you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet on it), then you know that this happens pretty much every day.
These players are delightful stories, unless, of course, they’re playing your team. Then they’re the most daggum irritating thing you’ve ever seen. That’s what makes them gnats; a truly beautiful phenomenon.
New this week in Gnatville, USA: the old man and the mountain, up goes Frazier, Billy 14-bags and the Legend of Chi Chi.
- DJ Stewart: 3-3, BB, R vs. Corey Kluber, Yankees on Friday
- Yan Gomes: 5-6, 2 RBI, 4 R vs. Diamondbacks on Friday
- Isiah Kiner-Falefa: 10-23 (.435), 1.089 OPS, 3 RBI, 6 R, SB vs. M’s, Giants & Astros
Third Runner-Up: Rich Hill
6.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 9 K vs. Yankees on Thursday
We should have known it was only a matter of time before Rich Hill became an ace again in Tampa Bay. No, it doesn’t matter that he’s 41 years old, the oldest active Major Leaguer with Albert Pujols gone. It doesn’t matter that he’s pitching the A.L. East, one of baseball’s toughest divisions, for the first time since he left the Red Sox in 2015 (fun fact: he’s now just one Blue Jays contract away from becoming the seventh player to suit up for all five teams in one division). All that matters is the legend that is Dick Mountain, mixed with the regenerative sorcery bestowed upon Rays pitching.
Then again, maybe it’s just a Yankees problem. In six career starts against the Yankees with Tampa, Charlie Morton had a 3.56 ERA (2.28 if you subtract one 2019 start). A few weeks ago, Michael Wacha earned GOTW honors on this page for shutting down the bombers out of nowhere.
Now, evidently, it’s Hill’s turn: after giving up 18 earned runs in the month of April, he’s amassed a 17-plus-inning scoreless streak, culminating in Thursday’s effortless shuttering of the formidable Yankee bats — and he did it in style:
Dick Mountain, Very Nice 69mph Curveball. ♋️?⛰️ pic.twitter.com/nm9kYgqzEh
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 13, 2021
Hill’s 6.2 innings on Thursday made for his longest outing of the season, topping the 6.0 innings (with seven K’s) he threw against the Yanks on April 9, when he allowed four runs. He struck out nine in this one, propelling the Rays to their sixth win in nine tries vs. New York already this season. Incidentally, it was also the 69th career W for Hill, coming in his 300th career game. Yeah, in hindsight they never stood a chance, did they?
Second Runner-Up: Adam Frazier
4-5, RBI, 2 R, game-winning run vs. Kevin Gausman, Giants on Friday
It brings me pain to admit this as a Braves fan, but the new Kevin Gausman is for real. Through eight starts in 2021, he has a career-low 1.84 ERA, 2.55 FIP and has yet to exit before the end of the sixth inning for the first-place Giants. That’s ace stuff. And by the well-established (a.k.a. completely made-up) logic of this post, that makes pretty much any player on the Pittsburgh Pirates who goes off against him a gnat candidate. Enter Adam Frazier.
Never mind the fact that he’s actually leading the National League in hits right now (47 and counting as of Saturday morning). Heading into 2021, he had a career OPS of 7.49 in five seasons, while regularly leading the league in most times assumed to be Todd Frazier. But we may have to start noticing him if he keeps this up.
Gausman was dominant on Friday night, throwing eight innings of shutout ball before exiting with two on in the ninth. Of the five total hits he allowed, three were by Frazier. He led off that ninth inning with a single and wound up coming around to score the game-tying run on a hit by Bryan Reynolds. He didn’t come up again until the 11th inning, leading off again with the Pirates now down 2-1. This time he did the tying himself with an RBI triple, before coming home to end it on Gregory Polanco’s walk-off sac fly.
— Pirates (@Pirates) May 15, 2021
You may never get the credit you deserve, but I see you, Adam Frazier. Congratulations on attaining gnat status. I promise your certificate is in the mail.
First Runner-Up: Billy Hamilton
4-4, RBI, 3 R, SB vs. Twins on Wednesday
As the old saying goes: show me someone who doesn’t love Billy Hamilton and I’ll show you someone with poo in their pants. Or something like that. Point is, he’s awesome.
He is not, however, what one would call a “good hitter.” The former Cincinnati Reds speedster is with the White Sox now, and leading up to Wednesday’s game, he had three hits (all singles) and two walks (a .192 OBP) in 27 plate appearances this year. Not good.
But baseball never fails to surprise us, right? Earning a rare start against J.A. Happ and the Twins, Hamilton collected four hits in as many at-bats, more than doubling his season total. He used his bat and his legs, recording two singles, a double and a triple, scoring three runs and earning the rather generous tag of “cycle watch” for a brief moment. He’s hit a total of two home runs since 2018, but hey, it could’ve happened, I guess.
If you’re a fan of guys moving really fast, Billy has always been your man. Watch him wreak havoc on the bases on Wednesday, including almost catching Andrew Vaughn in the first clip:
And in the spirit of absurdity, here’s one more Sox fun fact:
White Sox to get 3+ hits in a game over the last 10 games:
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 13, 2021
Float like a butterfly, sting like a gnat. If Andrelton Simmons can’t throw you out, who needs the bat?
GNAT OF THE WEEK: Chi Chi González
7.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 K vs. Reds on Thursday
Being an MLB hitter is an incredibly demanding job. You work out constantly, spend countless hours in a literal cage, then go to work every day just for thousands of people to vociferously ridicule you if you fail to live up to an impossible standard of success even once. The reward for this treatment, other than fame and fortune, is getting to hit in Coors Field every so often.
Now picture this scenario: you play for the Cincinnati Reds, a middling small-market franchise, trying to break out of an extended slump through the season’s first month-plus — say, Eugenio Suárez. Finally, you make your first trip to Colorado. You feel good, having just won a string of series vs. the Dodgers, Cubs and Pirates, plus splits with the White Sox and in-state rival Indians. The offense has been humming, and now’s your chance to really get going.
Then the game starts, and you get utterly mowed down, decimated and shut out by a man named Chi Chi. Folks, this is a true story.
Chi Chi González, the 29-year-old right-hander who was DFA’d by the Rockies just five months ago (and re-signed two days later to a minor league contract), was dominant on Thursday against the N.L.’s highest-scoring offense… at home. After giving up seven runs in St. Louis last Saturday, he held the Reds scoreless with just four hits over seven innings, his longest outing since 2015. In one day, he lowered his ERA by more than a full point.
The Reds scored 6 ER off Jack Flaherty and 5 ER off Walker Buehler in starts this season.
The Reds scored 1 ER in 12.1 innings the last two days off Trevor Cahil and Chi Chi Gonzalez.
Oh baseball, you cruel, cruel game.
— ɴɪᴄᴋ ᴋɪʀʙy (@Nicholaspkirby) May 14, 2021
As soon as Chi Chi was lifted in the eighth (to much consternation from the Rockies faithful), the Reds’ bats got going, and they ended up scoring eight runs in the final two innings. They still lost, 13-8. Suárez went 0-4. In professional circles, I hear that’s what they call “the Chi Chi effect.”
Twitter has apparently come together to stop evidence of this momentous event from getting out, but you can check out his highlights on the Rockies website. It really happened, I swear. Congratulations to Chi Chi!
Oh, and if you happen to see a Reds hitter on the street, give them a hug. They may need it.