A couple of years ago, Ramon Vazquez’s 11-year-old son, Nomar, came to him confused. While online, he had found a video of his father from his playing days in MLB; Vazquez had spent 2001 to ’09 as a utility infielder for six teams. He was good with the glove but an afterthought with the bat, hitting just 22 home runs over those nine seasons. But that’s what made the footage Nomar had found—highlights of a game from Aug. 22, 2007, between the Rangers, his dad's team at the time, and the Orioles—so strange.
"He was like, 'I found a video of you hitting two home runs, and one of them made the score 30–3,'" Vazquez says. "Then he says, 'I showed my buddies at school, and they don’t believe it’s you.'"
Nomar’s young friends weren’t the only ones who couldn't make sense of a game so full of craziness. On that humid August evening in Baltimore a decade ago, the Rangers crushed the Orioles, 30–3, setting a modern-era record for most runs in a single game and biggest blowout. It was only the ninth time in history a team had reached 30 runs, and it hadn't happened since the Chicago Colts beat the Louisville Colonels, 36–7, in 1897. Among the other oddities:
• All 10 players Texas sent to the plate had at least one hit and one run scored.
• Five different Rangers had at least three hits; as a team, they hit .509 and collected 29 total.
• Vazquez and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia each homered twice and drove in seven runs apiece.
• Three Orioles relievers gave up 25 runs in the span of four innings.
• Texas' lone reliever of the day was credited with a save for preserving a 27-run lead.
Oh, and it was only the first game of a doubleheader.
“This is something freaky,” Rangers centerfielder Marlon Byrd told reporters that night. “You won’t see anything like this again for a long, long time.”
“You’re asking like, man, do they have a mercy rule?” says Freddie Bynum, who played shortstop and leftfield for the Orioles that day. “You know there ain’t, but you’re hoping for one.”
Ten years later, the Rangers’ 30–3 win remains one of the most incredible games in major league history. But perhaps even stranger than the final score is how an unlikely cast of characters came together to make it happen.
Don Wakamatsu wasn’t expecting much from his team's offense as Texas rolled into Camden Yards in the early afternoon of Aug. 22. Two nights before, the Rangers had run into Twins ace Johan Santana, who had struck out 17 hitters in a shutout win. The first game against the Orioles, meanwhile, saw the Rangers face another top lefty, Erik Bedard, who had held them to two runs over seven innings and punched out 11. All told, the Rangers had scored only 14 runs over the last week, and as Wakamatsu, their third base coach, met with manager Ron Washington before the game, there wasn’t a lot of hope for that drought to end any time soon.
"I remember Wash giving me the lineup, throwing it across his desk, and going, 'Good luck with this one.'" Wakamatsu says, laughing. "We weren’t feeling too froggy."
Texas came into the game 54–70, having long ago abandoned any playoff hopes. A month earlier, the team had jettisoned All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira in a deadline trade with the Braves that returned four top prospects, including Saltalamacchia, shortstop Elvis Andrus and pitchers Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison. The deal was made with an eye toward the future, but it left a gaping hole in the middle of the Rangers’ lineup. Gone, too, was veteran outfielder Kenny Lofton, who had hit .303 for Texas over 84 games but was sent to Cleveland in late July.
Thanks to those trades and the absence of slugging third baseman Hank Blalock (who had undergone Thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in May and would be out until early September), the Rangers’ lineup that summer was, aside from four-time All-Star shortstop Michael Young, a patchwork mess. Embracing the rebuild, the team was leaning on younger players: Saltalamacchia at catcher, second baseman Ian Kinsler and outfielders Nelson Cruz and David Murphy. Interspersed were veterans either on their last legs or searching for a second chance, like Byrd, Sammy Sosa, Frank Catalanotto and Brad Wilkerson. Beyond that were roster-filler types like Vazquez, Travis Metcalf and Jason Botts, hoping to impress if given the opportunity.
“It reminded me of one of those spring training games where you send in the guys who are trying to prove themselves,” says Botts, who was the designated hitter that day. “I think that’s part of why the score kept climbing higher and higher.”
With a doubleheader on the docket, Washington had to rest some players and give time to others. As such, his lineup was Catalanotto (1B), Kinsler (2B), Young (SS), Byrd (CF), Botts (DH), Cruz (RF), Murphy (LF), Saltalamacchia (C) and Vazquez (3B). It was far from fearsome.
“I told Ron it was a good lineup to get fired with,” jokes then-hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.
On the other side, the Orioles were also amid a season to forget—Baltimore entered the day 58–65 and 16 1/2 games out in the AL East—but had at least one small reason to celebrate. Earlier that day, in a press conference at Camden Yards, the team had removed the interim tag from Dave Trembley, who had taken over as manager following Sam Perlozzo’s firing on June 18. After spending 20 years grinding as a manager in the minors and starting the season as the team’s bullpen coach, Trembley would officially be a big league skipper for the rest of the year and for 2008 as well.
“I was 55 years old at the time,” he says. “It was a dream come true for me.”
“I was really excited for Dave, having this opportunity,” says Orioles catcher J.R. House, an old friend of Trembley’s who grew up near him in Florida. “There was probably more excitement than anything else—a new leader, it’s official, moving forward.”
Trembley’s Orioles could hit, but pitching was their issue. Aside from Bedard and Jeremy Guthrie, the rotation was a hit-or-miss group; by that point in the season, Baltimore was trying out younger arms like Garrett Olson, Radhames Liz and Daniel Cabrera, who took the mound for game one of the doubleheader. The bullpen was in even rougher shape, with veterans Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker as Trembley’s only above-average relievers. The back of the ‘pen was a rotating cast of Triple A options, including 30-year-old Rob Bell, who was in a regular relief role for the first time after six years as a back-end rotation piece.
Rain on Monday had washed out the series opener between the two teams, forcing a doubleheader on Wednesday. But for reasons no one can quite recall, the first game didn’t start until 5:05 p.m. ET. And so as the sun began to sink over downtown Baltimore, Cabrera delivered a first-pitch strike to Catalanotto to begin game one. No one knew that, a little more than three hours later, they would be in the history books.
The highest-scoring MLB game anyone alive has ever seen was, through five innings of play, not especially high scoring at all. Baltimore led 3–0 before Texas got on the board in the fourth with five runs, including Vazquez’s first home run of the day, a three-run shot off of Cabrera.
Vazquez’s homer was the big blow of the inning, but it’s the rally that preceded it served as an omen for what was to come. Byrd started the frame with a walk; Botts reached on a weakly hit groundball to shortstop; Murphy hit an infield single to Cabrera that he couldn’t flip to first in time; and Saltalamacchia drove in the first two runs of the day with a groundball up the middle. Individually, these plays are nothing more than the game’s notorious balls-in-play luck breaking in Texas’ favor. But to the Rangers, it was the beginning of a day where seemingly everything went their way.
“We had the rollers that got through the infield, we had the broken-bat hits and bloopers, we had the smashed doubles and home runs,” Kinsler says. “Whether we hit the ball hard or soft, it was a base hit.”
“Every swing we took, even if it was a bad swing, the ball would fall in or find a hole,” adds Vazquez.
Cabrera finished the inning with no further damage, and neither team did anything in the fifth. But Saltalamacchia opened the sixth with a solo homer to make it 6–3, and that was the end of Cabrera’s day. In came 26-year-old lefty Brian Burres, who had split his season between the back of the rotation and the bullpen. Needing length in a doubleheader, Trembley hoped that his young southpaw could give him a couple of innings, and ideally finish the game.
The first batter up was Vazquez, who blooped a single into right. Catalanotto followed with a walk. Kinsler made the first out of the inning, grounding out on an attempted bunt, but Young lined a single into left to load the bases. Up came Byrd, who had walked in three trips to the plate so far. The veteran outfielder took an 0–1 slider and golfed it into the seats in left for a grand slam to make it 10–3 Rangers.
The game was firmly in Texas’ control, though not in the realm of the unusual. And after Botts struck out looking, Burres and the Orioles were only an out away from getting back to their dugout down but not destroyed. Instead, things spiraled out of control at dizzying speed. The next five hitters—Cruz, Murphy, Saltalamacchia, Vazquez and Catalanotto—all reached on singles, with the last three hits driving in runs. As Trembley made the walk to the mound to summon a new reliever, it was 13–3 Rangers. In the bullpen, Bell had gotten the call.
“When the phone rings, it’s a disappointment for everybody,” he says. “The bullpen coach answers the phone and just points, and you get loose as quickly as you can, and you want to get in there and get fast outs.”
Bell jogged to the mound, where Trembley and Baltimore's infielders were waiting. Normally, when he or another reliever came into a lopsided effort, garrulous first baseman Kevin Millar would crack a joke about the score. But this time, as Bell got the ball, there was just silence from everyone.
“At that point," says Bell, "it was just awful enough.”
Kinsler greeted Bell with a weakly hit flyball that dropped just in front of centerfielder Corey Patterson to make it 14–3. (“I felt like I got out every time,” says Kinsler, who finished 3-for-7 with two RBIs on the day.) But Bell got Young to fly out to end the inning, then breezed through the seventh, retiring Byrd, Botts and Cruz in order. The worst seemed to be over.
“It’s the law of averages, right? When something would go bad, how much longer can it go bad for?” Bell says. “At that rate, it can’t continue.”
By that point, Washington had also gone to his bullpen. With starter Kason Gabbard done after six innings, the seventh belonged to righty Wes Littleton, a 24-year-old in his second season. He pitched mostly in middle and long relief, and with the second game of the doubleheader looming and Texas up by double digits, Washington asked him to provide as many innings as he could. “‘Get outs,’ that’s about all I was told,” he says. Like Bell, he got the Orioles in order in the seventh.
Littleton wasn’t the only new face that inning. Young’s back had been bothering him throughout the last week, and with his team up big, Washington decided to give his veteran shortstop a break. In came Metcalf, then in his rookie season, to play third, with Vazquez moving to short. Five days past his 25th birthday, Metcalf had come up from Triple A earlier that day to provide depth off the bench; he remembers taking an early morning flight from Oklahoma and getting to Camden Yards hours before the rest of the team. Better regarded for his glove, he entered the game hoping he could get an at-bat or two to impress the team in his second trip to the majors.
Metcalf got his chance in the eighth. Like Washington, Trembley had pulled some of his regulars that inning, replacing Patterson and Nick Markakis in the outfield with Bynum and Tike Redman. (“I remember sitting on the bench thinking, I hope they don’t put me in this,” Bynum says.) But Bell was back out on the mound, tasked with saving the bullpen. He didn’t last long. Murphy reached on an infield single to second base to start the inning. Walks to Saltalamacchia and Vazquez followed, then RBI singles from Catalanotto and Kinsler. The bases were loaded with no outs, bringing up Metcalf for his first at-bat of the day with the score 16–3.
With a 2–0 count, Bell fired a slider that simply sat in the middle of the plate; Metcalf remembers it hanging in front of him, almost in slow motion. The rookie swung and drove the ball a dozen rows back in the leftfield seats for Texas’ second grand slam of the day. It was now 20–3 Rangers, and after a walk to Byrd, Bell’s day was done. He had faced seven men in the inning and retired none of them.
“To give up a grand slam in that situation, the air goes out of you,” Bell says. “How big a hole can I dig and hide in? Your mind almost goes blank. You go almost to a place of being numb.”
In came the Orioles' third reliever of the night, veteran righty Paul Shuey, who was in his 11th and final season in the majors; that night's game would be the second-to-last of his career. Shuey had spent the last three years out of the game due to a hip injury suffered in 2004, only to come back after an experimental medical procedure, but he entered the game with an unsightly 6.75 ERA in 22 2/3 innings. He was the last man on the bullpen depth chart, and Trembley's final hope at stopping the slaughter.
As Bell sat in the dugout and watched, Shuey struck out Botts for the first out of the inning. (“The game might still be going on if I hadn’t struck out in those situations,” Botts jokes.) But the next three batters all reached: Cruz doubled, Murphy singled (his fourth hit of the day and second of the inning) to drive in Byrd, and Saltalamacchia poked a high split-finger fastball over the wall in right-centerfield for his second home run of the day. It was now 24–3 Texas.
“How did that all happen that quickly?” Bell says. “It all seems slow looking back, but at the time, it’s a million miles an hour, and I did nothing to stop it.”
Shuey struck out Vazquez and Catalanotto to end the inning, but another 10 runs had crossed the plate. The Rangers had recorded just the 28th game of 24 or more runs since 1913; the modern record for most runs in a single game, meanwhile, was 29, set by the Red Sox in 1950 and matched by the White Sox in ’55. With one inning to go, the odds of tying or breaking that mark were low. But the hits seemed contagious, and no one wanted to miss out on an opportunity.
“You don’t want to give at-bats away,” Vazquez says. “Guys aren’t going to go up there and take a strikeout just to get it over with.”
In the top of the ninth, Trembley made his last substitutions, pulling Miguel Tejada from the field and moving House from DH to catcher. Shuey, however, remained in: He had told Trembley that he wanted to finish the outing and save the bullpen ahead of the second game. “In retrospect, if we’d brought someone else in, they might not have scored as many runs in the last couple innings, but that was my decision,” Trembley says.
It was a valiant sacrifice, but Shuey was shot. He walked Kinsler and Metcalf to start the inning and then gave up a single to Byrd to load the bases. That brought Botts to the plate with two hits but—somehow—not a single RBI to his name. On a 1–1 count, he ripped a double into the rightfield corner to avoid infamy. “I remember turning on a ball and seeing it go down the line and thinking, ‘Finally!’” he says. His two-run knock made it 26–3; two batters later, Murphy drove in Byrd with the 27th run on his fifth hit—and third infield single—of the game.
The Rangers were now in rarefied air. Since 1913, only four other teams had ever scored 27 or more runs in a game, and no one had done so in over half a century. But they were still two runs shy of the modern record, and after Saltalamacchia struck out for the second out of the inning, they would need a borderline miracle to make history.
With two on and two out, Vazquez came to the plate for the seventh time that day. He had already homered, way back in the fifth inning, and had collected another RBI in the sixth, but in the eighth, he struck out looking against Shuey—an at-bat that had sat poorly with him.
“I remember taking a 2–0 fastball right down the middle, and I was mad at myself, like, why would I do that?” he says. “I’m trying to respect the game, but at the same time, if he falls behind, that’s not my fault.”
Between innings, Vazquez had told a teammate that he didn’t plan on watching another fastball go by, regardless of the score. So when Shuey again fell behind, this time 1–0, Vazquez got aggressive, turning on a thigh-high pitch and belting it to right. At first, he thought the ball might smash off the wall, but the line drive kept carrying, going out over the scoreboard and landing in the concourse on Eutaw Street in nearly the same spot as his first three-run homer. It was 30–3 Texas, and with one swing, Vazquez and the Rangers were now No. 1 in the history books.
As Vazquez rounded the bases for the second time that night, he heard something he’d never experienced before: The crowd at Camden Yards was on its feet and roaring, all for him, a visiting player. But the Rangers had seemingly run out of cheers. “My last home run, it was tough to celebrate,” he says. “You don’t know what to say or how to react.” So he high fived his teammates in a mostly quiet dugout to the appreciative cries of another team’s fans—the strangest moment yet in a day beyond belief.
Vazquez's homer was the final firework. Catalanotto reached on a walk right after, but Kinsler flied out to end the top of the ninth. The bottom of the frame was uneventful, as Littleton retired the Orioles in order in his third inning of work. The game was finally and mercifully over (though, amazingly, it took only three hours and 21 minutes to play, or just 12 minutes longer than the average game in 2017). In the dugouts, there was a sense of shock.
“I never thought that would happen in a major league game,” Bynum says. “30–3, that’s a football score.”
“That score feels way too low compared to what it felt like going through that game,” House adds.
Both teams retreated to their clubhouses, where they would get just half-an-hour to rest and recharge for the second game. And though that game was far more normal, it too was a Texas win, this time with the Rangers scoring three in the eighth to pull off a 9–7 comeback. Metcalf, who had collected four RBIs in game one, tacked on another four in game two; in six trips to the plate that day, he tallied eight RBIs, or two more than he had all season prior. Bell, meanwhile, recalls spending the nightcap talking to Burres and Shuey in the bullpen, trying to piece together just how everything had gone so wrong so quickly.
The mood on Baltimore’s side after the second game was somber. Trembley remembers telling his players only, “Tough day, fellas. Go home and relax and I’ll see you tomorrow.” When asked about the 27-run loss by reporters, he remarked simply, “You have a real short memory and you let it go.”
“You take it personal, but you try not to show it,” he says. “I tried to be upbeat with my guys and very respectful and appreciative of their efforts. There’s no room in the game for a pity party.”
Over in the Texas clubhouse, there were celebrations and handshakes, as well as the dawning realization that something never before seen had just happened. Washington’s contribution was brief: “I walked to the clubhouse, said, 'Way to drop that [bat] head,' and went to my office,” he says. Gabbard recalls being approached by a clubhouse attendant, who asked if he wanted a copy of the lineup card from that night as a keepsake. (As it turns out, every member of the Rangers was gifted one; Metcalf got his signed by his new teammates.) Vazquez remembers being asked for his bat, which he didn’t want to give up after homering twice with it (in what turned out to be the only two-homer game of his career). Littleton, meanwhile, was also approached by a clubbie, who asked him for the ball from the last out, which was sitting on the floor by his locker.
“He was like, you know you set a record,” Littleton says. “Yeah, whatever, I didn’t set a record. And he says, yeah, you set a record for a save.”
Littleton soon realized that, by pitching the final three innings of the win, he had qualified for a save under one of the game’s more unusual rules. He was now the owner of the most lopsided save in MLB history—and the butt of plenty of his teammates' jokes.
“I got a lot of crap the next day,” he says. "'Nice save, Wes,'" "'Easiest save in the world.'"
The onslaught caught the nation's attention, and the next day, after the Rangers had returned home to begin a series against the Mariners, they entered a clubhouse with more media than most of them could ever remember seeing. But for as singularly impressive a day as that was, it didn’t spark a run of any sort: Texas went 19–17 over the last six weeks of the season but still finished in last place in the AL West. And while some of the pieces from that game’s lineup would be instrumental in the franchise’s first trip to the World Series three years later, most would simply vanish not long after. Botts, Gabbard, Littleton and Metcalf were all out of the majors after the 2008 season; Byrd, Catalanotto and Vazquez, meanwhile, continued their peripatetic veteran existences.
“There were guys in that lineup for Texas who had career days that day,” Trembley says. “But have you ever heard from them again?” He laughs, adding, “That’s baseball.”
As for Baltimore, as bad as a loss as it had been, it had no real effect on the season. Although the Orioles went 11–26 from Aug. 22 onward, they managed to avoid last place in the AL East. Like Texas, better things were in their future, but by the time the O's returned to the playoffs in 2012, Trembley was gone, having been fired early in the 2010 season; of that ’07 squad, only a handful were left by the time he was axed.
Today, the 30–3 game survives as one of MLB’s standout curiosities. In the 10 years since it happened, only 21 teams have even scored 20 runs in a game, and the most runs belong to the Nationals, who beat the Mets, 23–5, back on April 30. It’s quite possible that no one alive right now will ever see it or anything like it happen again. “Hopefully that record never gets broken,” says Gabbard.
For the Rangers' players, the game isn’t just history; for most of them, it’s the single best day they ever had in the major leagues. It's a particularly fond memory for the likes of Vazquez, Botts and Metcalf, who didn't get starring roles or long careers in the big leagues but will always have that one crazy night in Baltimore. “It’s special for those guys more than anybody,” Wakamatsu says.
Even for those on the losing end, the game remains, at the very least, an unforgettable day, and even a source of amusement years down the road. “Now you just look back on it and laugh,” Bynum says. “Me, I kind of laughed about it after a couple of days, like, 'Man, we just got our ass whupped.' But it’s all part of the game.”
It helps that the Orioles never felt like the Rangers ran up the score or tried to embarrass them; well before the 30th run crossed the plate, celebrations had been muted, and base running had become station to station. “It was a professional display on their end,” Trembley says. “Everybody’s been on the other side.” There’s a common understanding among the players who took part in that game that 30 was a fluke, not a goal. While the hits and runs kept piling up, that was only because no one was going to sacrifice a run-scoring hit or a chance at a career day simply to spare the feelings of an opponent who would have done the same if given the chance.
“There’s no sympathy,” Kinsler says. “You don’t feel bad for another team that’s getting its butt kicked because there’s a lot of times where you’re on the other side and they don’t feel sorry for you.”
Like so many other players on the Rangers and Orioles that year, Bell saw his major league career come to an end in 2007. He had dealt with serious anxiety issues the year before, and after a rough season that saw him post a 5.94 ERA in 53 innings, he got no major league attention. Signed to a minor league deal by the White Sox, he was unable to break camp with the team and instead went to Triple A, where he was clobbered for an 8.03 ERA over 12 games. Finally, he called it quits.
As is the case with so many former athletes, Bell had no real idea what to do after his playing days were over. He bounced through a series of jobs. He struggled with alcohol abuse and got sober. So when asked to reflect on what 30–3 meant to him, he understood that, while a difficult day for him and others, it was, in the end, just one game. No matter how bad it felt to stand on the mound and watch the score keep climbing, that was all part of being a baseball player. Some days are good, and some days aren't; it just happens that some are decidedly worse than others.
“I’ve had to overcome a lot of different things in my life, and it’s a matter of putting things in proper perspective,” he says. “But baseball brought me so much joy and had opened up so many opportunities to be part of so many different things I wouldn’t have had a chance to do.”
“But if I’d had my choice,” he adds, “I’d have been on the other side of history.”