Colon had not gone more than seven pitches to any Astro hitters before that at bat. Only Gutierrez in the 3rd and Brad Ausmus in the 5th had gone that deep. Fourteen Astro hitters were retired on three pitches or less.
So, when Gutierrez led off the top of the 8th what happened was totally unexpected. Colon was breezing with a 4-2 lead and had thrown only 84 pitches.
(Image By Terry Foote – Bartolo Colon, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48603398)
Colon jumped ahead in the count with two quick strikes. After a ball to make the count 1-2 came seventeen more pitches. Two fouls and a pitch out of the zone make it 2-2 after six pitches.
It was 3-2 when Colon threw another ball on the 13th pitch. Six more fouls followed to get the count to 19. Finally, Colon fooled Ricky and got him to swing and miss on pitch #20. The at bat and its 20 pitches represented 18% of all the pitches Colon had thrown in the game up to that point. The long at bat was frustrating Colon. Before he finally retired Gutierrez, he was seen laughing on the mound while Ricky kept fouling pitches. As for Gutierrez after the game he said, “It was no laughing matter. I wanted to get a hit and he struck me out.”
Colon would retire both Ausmus and Craig Biggio on eight more pitches and be finished for the game, but he would be the winning pitcher. It would move his record to 8-4.
While the Gutierrez-Colon battle remained the most pitch-filled at bat in official records, stories from earlier days claim Luke Appling may have bettered it. There is an anecdote saying he had a 24 pitch at bat. The problem is no one is sure. The legend is that he may have fouled as many as 16 (or 17) straight pitches on purpose. The story says it was to get even with an owner who would not give him a box of baseballs to give out to fans.
Another source says a hitter named Roy Thomas who was a slap hitting advocate of the bunt may have fouled off as many as 27 pitches in one at bat during a game in 1899. His mark must be discounted since he was playing under different rules at the turn of the 19th century when fouls were not strikes. In 1901 the foul strike rule (for the first two fouls while swinging) was adopted and bunting foul with two strikes was a strikeout. Some feel the rule was instituted just because of Thomas. Even if Thomas (or Appling) were contenders for the most pitches seen in an at bat no one knows for sure how many total pitches they may have seen. Gutierrez’ total was well documented.
And finally, it must be noted that the now third most pitch-filled documented at bat was the 18 pitches Dodger infielder Alex Cora saw against Cubs pitcher Matt Clement of the Cubs in 2004. It had a much happier ending for the hitter. Cora homered to end it.