One week ago, the Rockies delivered one of the more memorable innings of the 2010 season when they dropped 12 runs on the Cubs in the 8th inning. Incredibly, they had two outs before they had scored any runs at all. With runners on the corners and two outs, the Rockies pounded out a record-tying eleven consecutive hits, seven of them for extra bases and two of them leaving the yard. When the dust settled, a 5-2 game had become a 17-2 laugher and Clint Barmes, who had started it all with a leadoff double and later on added another hit, was waiting to bat for the third time in the inning when Ian Stewart flied out to end it. Obviously, dropping 12 runs in one inning on a team can never be foreseen, but between Coors Field and the Rockies’ potent offense (currently second in the NL in runs, OBP, and OPS) it was not completely unfathomable.
That got me thinking about huge innings in general, and it turns out that the record for the most runs scored in a single inning is a stunning 17, a feat accomplished by the Boston Red Sox on June 18th, 1953. The NL record is 18, set by the Cubs in September 1883, but they played a very different game then, and the box score isn’t available, so I will focus only on the modern record.
The 1953 Red Sox finished 84-69 (that percentage translates to 89 wins in a 162-game season), good for fourth place in the 8-team AL and 16 games behind the soon to be back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back World Champion Yankees. They got there mostly on the strength of their pitching, as they were third in the league in ERA and strikeouts. With Ted Williams serving in Korea for most of the season, the still-segregated Red Sox were a generally weak offensive team. They were 6th in the league in runs scored, ahead of only the 59-95 Athletics and the 54-100 St. Louis Browns. They were 5th in OBP, 6th in home runs, and dead last in walks (all that includes Williams’ contributions. He hit an absurd .407/.509/.901/1.410 with 13 home runs in 110 plate appearances in August and September).
On June 18th, The Red Sox hosted the Detroit Tigers for the rubber game of a three-game set, having demolished the Tigers 17-1 the previous day. The score was 5-3 Boston at the seventh inning stretch and the Sox had their 5-6-7 hitters coming up. What followed was no doubt a treat for the 3108 fans on hand:
Stephens: single (runner goes to third), stolen base
Umphlett: single, two runs score
Goodman: intentional walk
Piersall: single, two runs score
Gernert: home run, three runs score
Stephens: wild pitch, then double, two runs score
Lipon: single, one run scores
Goodman: single, one run scores
Zarilla (pinch-hitting for Piersall): walk
Gernert: walk, one run scores
Kinder: single, two runs score
White: single, one run scores
Stephens: single, one run scores
Umphlett: single, one run scores
17 runs, 14 hits, 5 walks. They left the bases loaded too. Detroit’s defense committed five errors in this ballgame, but none in the seventh inning. George Kell, who made two outs in the inning, was the 1953 Sox’s best offensive player. Gene Stephens’ three hits set a modern Major League record that will be rarely tied and never surpassed. Boston’s 40 runs in two games is undoubtedly at or near the top of that list as well. All that from a generally weak offensive team that was never better than 7.5 games out of first from June onward.
- Not kidding when I said it would be rarely tied. In the 57 years since it was set, only one other player has ever recorded three hits in one inning. On June 27th, 2003, The Red Sox hosted the Marlins. Johnny Damon hit a double to lead off the first inning, added a triple later on, and ended the inning with a single whereupon Bill Mueller got thrown out trying to score Boston’s 15th run. Despite having three legs of the cycle in the first inning, Damon did not complete it.