I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Lance Berkman's two home runs in last night's St. Louis Cardinals game are the single greatest human achievement of my lifetime. On Monday afternoon the Cardinals were slugging .306—Brendan Ryan slugged .294 last season, as a frame of reference—and somehow it was a bad .306. It was mostly doubles, and they came from sources where they felt like random chance—two from Yadier Molina, two from Skip Schumaker, one from Daniel Descalso, who's had one of the most unpleasant starts to a season I can remember this side of Albert Pujols. The Cardinals seemed once more to hit perpetually with two outs and nobody on. Pujols's lone home run was a solo shot; so, too, Rasmus, who was leading the team in total bases despite having driven in exactly one run.
But yesterday: extra bases as far as the eye can see! Not just the ones we can't count on, but two aesthetically pleasing opposite-field shots from the team's major offensive acquisition. This game is as good a chance as any to test a new and arbitrary way of measuring offensive futility by the kind of extra-base hits you're forced to watch. So without any further ado, I present the Extra-Base Hit Scale of Futility:
Five: The 2010 Seattle Mariners. Calibrate your extra-base hit futilitometers by pointing them at this Baseball-Reference page, which is trying to tell me that Russell Branyan led this team in home runs with 15 despite playing 57 games for them.
This team maxes out all kinds of futility levels; Ichiro, who led the American League in singles for the tenth consecutive season in 2010, just missed leading the Mariners in extra-base hits. Five guys hit at least 20 doubles, but nobody hit more than 30; four hit 10 home runs, but nobody more than 15. And three starters had OBPs over .300, which means that most of those doubles probably came with two men out and Ichiro unleashing a stream of Japanese profanities at his teammates from second base.
Four: The Pick-Off Play XBH. The Diamondbacks managed this one Monday night; Willie Bloomquist singled to lead off the inning and was promptly picked off by Kyle McClellan, just in time for Kelly Johnson to hit his third double of the season. That was followed, for maximum futility, by an infield pop-up and a grounder to Ryan Theriot; inning over.
Three: The Mid-Slump Solo Home Run. Lance Berkman's first home run could theoretically apply here, but it's impossible not to give this one to Albert Pujols's only 2011 extra-base hit. One game after opening the season with three GIDPs—a total that would, as of Monday, still lead the National League by itself—Pujols hit a home run, but it was a solo shot in the middle of an ugly loss.
Like the pick-off play XBH, this mixes achievement with futility to form a hybrid baseball sadness, in the same way you might mix something good like cough syrup and something bad like hydrochloric acid to make crystal meth.
Two: The Punchless RBI Double. When Skip Schumaker sneaks a double past the infield for a two-out RBI it's hard to convince yourself that you're witnessing the turning point of the Cardinals' season. He never hits for much power and he's not about to start, and he hits near the bottom of the order so you know you're not about to watch a game-changing rally—at least most of the time.
But a run comes in, and when you get a run out of Skip Schumaker it's hard to get to worked up about it. Final verdict: Not futile.
One: Back-to-Back Home Runs. No one has yet devised a way of hitting back-to-back three-run homers, so there will always be a nagging feeling of meaningless excess to the second one. That said, this nagging feeling is nothing more than the gods of baseball trying to convince you that the Cardinals could somehow save that Jon Jay home run for later, and you are to believe them under absolutely no circumstances.
If they came down to earth in trickster-gob form and you were to accept that offer, you can rest assured that Jon Jay would hit that home run as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, and that it would strike your future spouse in center field, causing him or her to swear off baseball forever just before you were supposed to meet-cute for the first time at Busch Stadium. (The rest of your life would continue in the general fashion of "The Monkey's Paw.")
Zero: Pitchers Hitting To Build A Lead. On certain occasions a pitcher hitting could be the ultimate Punchless RBI Double moment. But Kyle McClellan's contribution to the Cardinals' decisive fourth-inning rally was just about perfect. It gave the Cardinals their third run in four innings, and it sent Yadier Molina to third base to continue the rally for Ryan Theriot.
It also came on the road, while Albert Pujols was dealing with the worst slump of his career. I'm going to throw this one to Arizona-based VEB limerick technician IHeartBoog for the finish:
ppl in the park liked to point out that his avg is better than pujols’. it was all fun and games until kmac schooled them.
That's right: Nothing quiets down the other team's crowd quite so well as Kyle McClellan going 2-3 with a double.