Does Sonny Gray believe in the Baseball Gods? Sonny Gray does not believe in the Baseball Gods.
Tag Archives: no-hitter etiquette
Don’t change anything during the course of a no-hitter. By now, that much should be obvious. Players don’t change spots on the bench between innings. Managers don’t make unnecessary substitutions (except for those who do). The mere appearance of a reliever warming up in the bullpen can be enough to send the superstitious into fits of nervous twitching.
Monday, however, brought us something entirely new in the realm of not mixing things up, and it only makes sense that the delivery person was A.J. Pierzynski.
Yu Darvish, working on a perfect game in the sixth, threw a 2-2 breaking ball to Jonathan Villar, which Pierzynski thought was strike three, but which plate ump Ron Kulpa judged to be too low. The fact that the catcher leapt from his crouch and took a step toward the dugout before hearing Kulpa’s ruling earned him no favors.
Darvish walked Villar on the next pitch, giving the Astros their first baserunner, and Pierzynski was none too pleased. After the game, Kulpa explained what happened. As reported by MLB.com:
“Pierzynski didn’t like the pitch that I [called for a ball]. We had words about the [2-2] pitch. And then [Darvish] walked [Villar] on the very next pitch and [Pierzynski] continued to argue on the pitch before. And so he got ejected.” (Watch it here.)
Talk about changing things up. Game action was interrupted while Ron Washington came out to argue and backup catcher Geovany Soto raced to put on his gear. Suddenly Darvish was throwing to a different target. The right-hander denied that any of this had to do with the home run he gave up to catcher Carlos Corporan two frames later (indeed, Soto has caught 10 of Darvish’s 22 starts this season, so lack of familiarity is not a problem), but history is not on his side: Only twice has a pitcher thrown to more than one catcher during the course of a complete-game no-hitter—Ken Holtzman in 1969 and Larry Corcoran in 1880.
The question now becomes one of blame. Did Kulpa have too quick a trigger finger, especially considering the enormity of the situation? Should Pierzynski have played it cooler, knowing what was at stake?
The answer to both questions is a resounding yes. Had either of them shown just a skosh more restraint, it’s possible that the baseball world would be celebrating Darvish right now even more than it already is.
“Absolutely, you feel bad for the guy,” said Pierzynski afterward. “You feel bad for the pitcher and you feel bad for everybody associated with it. Because they don’t happen a lot and when you get that close, you really want to try to get them done. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”
(For what it’s worth, Darvish came within one batter of a perfect game at the same ballpark in April. Some feel he was jinxed in that one, too.)
The official Cincinnati Reds Twitter feed mentioned Homer Bailey‘s no-hitter 12 times before he completed it, not to mention a steady stream of references during the telecast by broadcaster Thom Brenneman. It was the second straight no-no in which Bailey was karmically messed with.
Somehow, he completed it, anyway. Go figure.
Seems only fitting to make some of my own copy available, as well. From The Baseball Codes, regarding that fateful day:
When David Wells was with the minor-league Syracuse Chiefs in 1987, he struck up a ﬁfth-inning conversation with teammate Todd Stottlemyre, who was charting pitches on his off-day. That one of their teammates was in the process of throwing a no-hitter didn’t affect him a bit. “Hey, Stott,” he said, “how many walks does he have?” Stottlemyre replied that an opponent had yet to draw a base on balls. “Wow!” said Wells. “He’s throwing a perfect game!” Chiefs trainer Jon Woodworth recalled Stottlemyre looking “like he was going to kill” Wells. The left-hander’s defense: In his twenty-four years on the planet, ﬁve of them in professional baseball, he had somehow never before heard the rule prohibiting discussion of no-hitters. The very next inning, the Syracuse pitcher gave up a two-out bloop single.
It’s a lesson Wells didn’t need to learn twice. In fact, he went so far as to become an evangelist for the idea. In his book, Perfect I’m Not, the pitcher laid out in the starkest possible terms the rule of which he once claimed ignorance:
Rule number one in baseball is that you never, EVER mention that a guy’s throwing a perfect game or a no-hitter until it’s over. If you mention it during the game, it’s a major jinx, the ultimate whammy. The pitcher on the mound will give up a hit to the next batter, and it WILL be your fault—guaranteed.
Some people ﬁnd religion; David Wells found superstition. Like Bert Blyleven before him, however, Wells held his view only in regard to other pitchers; he didn’t care a bit when it was him at the center of the maelstrom. During his perfect game in 1998, in fact, as Wells’s teammates on the Yankees edged farther away with each passing inning, he decided to take things into his own hands. Changing his undershirt in the clubhouse after the seventh inning, Wells saw David Cone, one of his best friends on the team. Highly in tune with the pressure of the moment, the left-hander approached his teammate, uncertain of what exactly he needed. “Can you believe what’s going on here?” he asked.
In retrospect, Cone feels that Wells simply wanted someone to talk to. In the moment, however, he was all too aware of the implications and at something of a loss for words—so he blurted out the ﬁrst thing that came to mind, daring Wells to break out the knuckleball he liked to throw in practice but wouldn’t dare try in a game.
Wells laughed and returned to the dugout. After he ﬁnished his eighth perfect inning, Cone got on him again, this time in the dugout. “You showed me nothing,” he yelled as the nervous pitcher came off the ﬁeld. “You didn’t use your knuckleball—you’ve got no guts!”
The tactic might have been taboo, but Cone knew his pal needed conversation more than he needed tradition, and Wells went on to ﬁnish the ﬁfteenth perfect game in big-league history. “To me, that kind of stuff is more important than some superstition that says you can’t get near the guy,” Cone said later.
(H/T Hardball Talk.)
With Yu Darvish’s near-perfect game Tuesday came the inevitable cries of jinx. It didn’t hurt that the TV broadcast included the comment, “Darvish looking for number six, and the second perfect game …” precisely as the right-hander released the two-out, ninth-inning pitch that Marwin Gonzalez would slap to center for Houston’s first hit.
Sure, there were those who tried to jinx it, and those who decried it being jinxed. Of semi-related interest, however, Darvish’s gem allowed the Mickey Mouse backpack worn by Texas reliever Joe Ortiz to be put on televised display as the game ended.
The backpack, of course, is a tradition in which the least-tenured member of a team’s relief corps is forced to lug around the bullpen’s candy supply, as well as finger fixers like nail clippers, frequently in as humiliating a satchel as possible.
If Ortiz thinks he has it bad, however, he has nothing on A’s reliever Sean Doolittle.
I was in the Oakland clubhouse yesterday, where Doolittle was fixing up the greatest candy bag I have encountered in many years on the Rookie Embarrassment beat.
Doolittle is the one doing the toting. That the left-hander appeared in three postseason games for the A’s last year counts for little; he’s still some 80 games behind teammate Evan Scribner when it comes to big league seniority. And he was sick of last season’s beat-up Hello Kitty bag.
Teammate Jerry Blevins acquiesced and purchased a new one—a fuzzy white, google-eyed unicorn, with pink hooves and a gold horn. Unfortunately, the new bag was far too small to hold the necessary supplies. Solution: affix old bag to new. Blevins began the process with safety pins, but left it to Doolittle himself to finish the job—akin, I thought, watching Doolittle struggle with the task, to having a victim dig his own grave. (See the bag in action here.)
“What can I say?” Doolittle said, affixing super glue just so. “I’m just doing what has to be done.”
Remember when A’s manager Bob Melvin put the shift on earlier this month against Jarrod Saltalamacchia as pitcher A.J. Griffin took a no-hitter into the fifth inning? How Saltalamacchia took advantage, bunting for his team’s first hit? How Melvin bore ultimate responsibility with his ill-timed strategy?
Seems that he’s not alone.
Friday, interim Reds manager Chris Speier did precisely the same thing, shifting his infield to the right for lefty hitter Pedro Alvarez in the eighth inning of Cincinnati’s game against Pittsburgh, even as pitcher Homer Bailey worked on a no-hitter.
Unlike Saltalamacchia, however, Alvarez failed to appreciate the fact that, with a simple willingness to poke a ball down the third base line, he’d not only have achieved his team’s first hit, but he’d have brought the winning run to the plate in a 1-0 game. Instead, he swung away and hit a line drive toward the shortstop position, manned by third baseman Scott Rolen.
“If [Rolen]’s not there that goes right between short and third,” said Bailey in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I thought that was it.”
Speier’s maneuver was the same as Melvin’s, save for the fact that it worked. Perhaps he had intel saying that Alvarez doesn’t bunt under any circumstances, and he took advantage. Barring that, though, it’s difficult to criticize Melvin without laying down a similar dose right here.
It’s pertinent to the unwritten rules, of course, in that Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen refused to mention the feat directly on the air.
“There have been five hits in this ballgame, for those who have turned in late, and the Yankees have had ’em all,” he said in the top of the sixth, conspicuously avoiding a certain two-word combination. As Wade Boggs settled in as the game’s final batter, Allen said, “Wade Boggs, standing between Dave Righetti and a pitcher’s dream.” (Watch it here.)
As it turned out, Allen was far more cognizant of the Code than at least one member of the Yankees. Righetti and Graig Nettles had been planning a trip to Atlantic City for the All-Star break, and Nettles wasn’t about to let some silly superstition get between him and his planning.
“In the sixth or seventh inning he came up and asked me who was driving,” said Righetti, who was a bit surprised to find any of his teammates willing to converse with him at that point. “He volunteered, even though he had pinkeye.”
He also had good sense. At ease talking about driving assignments, the third baseman never mentioned the no-hitter.
Happy July 4, everybody.