Dee Gordon started off Monday's game for the Dodgers by striking out to open the first inning, something he did 17 times in his 62 leadoff starts in 2012. But the strikeout was no ordinary at-bat, as the final pitch was the 17th one thrown by Carlos Villanueva of the Cubs.
The pitches thrown took their toll on Villanueva, who walked two hitters and allowed two runs in the first inning, both on a single by Nick Punto. Villanueva faced only five batters before coming out of the game.
Gordon's previous career high for pitches seen in a plate appearance was nine, on June 16, 2012 against Philip Humber of the White Sox. He also had seven plate appearances of eight pitches in his career. Gordon said he didn't remember ever seeing that many pitches in one at-bat, not even at the lower levels or in high school.
"That's a great at-bat Dee has for us. The guy then walks the next two guys," manager Don Mattingly said after the game. "The next time he takes a close 3-2 pitch for ball four. That's the kind of thing you want to see from Dee. You can't go up there walking, but you do have to have control of the strike zone."
Gordon walked in his other two at-bats, and even took two other balls in the second inning before Tony Gwynn Jr. was caught stealing to end the frame. But Gordon wasn't just up there taking pitches, as he fouled off several offerings.
"Sometimes that's when I get my walks, when I'm aggressive," Gordon said.
Though it may sound strange or funny to say, Gordon was doing what Mattingly talked about in controlling the strike zone and recognizing when to swing. Gordon said he was trying to slap the ball on several occasions in that first at-bat, and happened to foul off 11 pitches.
Is fouling off pitches a skill? Mattingly didn't seem to think so.
"I think he was just battling. I've heard people say they can just foul stuff off, but it's not that easy. I don't buy it. I believe guys that wait a long time and just get their bat on balls, show good hand-eye coordination."
Though it ultimately ended in a strikeout, Gordon's at-bat did stir memories of Alex Cora's memorable battle with Matt Clement of the Cubs on May 12, 2004. Cora's 18-pitch at-bat ended with a home run, which thanks to MLB is now available online.