On May 12 1984, with two outs in the ninth inning, the only thing that stood between Cincinnati’s Mario Soto and a no-hitter was Cardinals slugger George Hendrick. Soto’s first pitch to him was a fastball that split the plate. Hendrick watched it for strike one.
Soto’s second pitch was identical to the first. Again Hendrick watched it. Strike two.
Soto, however, inexplicably wanting something more from his experience, decided to buzz Hendrick with his 0-2 pitch, knocking him to the dirt. Hendrick took it calmly, returned to the batter’s box, and hit the next pitch for a home run. No-hitter over.
“I don’t know why he did that,” Hendrick said when he got back to the bench. “I was going to let the man have his no-hitter.”
It’s a matter of course for many in the game; no-hitter etiquette mandates a degree of respect for extraordinary feats. Hendrick might be more of an exception than a rule—hitters rarely want to stop hitting—but if a game is out of hand (as was Soto’s, with a 5-0 score), managers tend to leave the status quo alone, and let the inevitable play itself out.
This isn’t what happened on Monday, when, with two outs in the ninth inning of Matt Garza‘s no-hitter against Detroit, Tigers manager Jim Leyland called for Ramon Santiago to pinch-hit for Danny Worth. Like Soto’s gem, the score was 5-0, too steep a hill for the Tigers to realistically climb.
In Boston tonight, I talked to Leyland about his decision.
With two outs in the ninth inning of a 5-0 game, did you realistically think you had a chance to come back?
Probably not. Probably not. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a chance. The thing in that situation, the one big difference, is the five instead of four. If you’re down four runs, it’s okay to bunt in that situation for a hit. He gets on, someone else gets on, somebody walks, you send the tying run to the plate. With a five-run lead, not as much.
So it’s beyond the reach of a grand-slam. Knowing you’re not going to win, at what point do you let the guy have his no-hitter?
I don’t think you ever say that. I don’t ever say that.
No matter what the score, you’d send up your pinch-hitters?
Yeah, absolutely. I don’ think you ever say, “Let the guy have his no-hitter.” That’s not the way the game is played. If I’m going to say that, I might as well go home. That sends the wrong message to the people who paid for a ticket. I learned that from my parents—you get what you earn.
We play every game and compete until the end. There are 27 outs in a game, and you try to utilize all of them. It doesn’t matter what the score is. You have to understand the situation. Even if it’s 10-1 in the ninth inning, you might send someone up there to save a guy a tough at-bat against a tough pitcher, or a bench guy might be playing in the game the next day, so you want to get him an at-bat to help him track the ball a little bit. A lot of things go into it—it’s not cut-and-dried.
At this point, Leyland launched into a mini-soliloquy that beautifully summed up his position.
We’re paid to compete until the last out, regardless. That’s what we do for a living. Garza pitched a no-hitter, and I tip my cap to him. But when Verlander pitched his no-hitter against Milwaukee, he earned it, and he was supposed to earn it. That’s just the way things go.
You don’t want a no-hitter pitched against you. Everybody’s talking about how you should just let him have it. Well, no you shouldn’t. Nobody wants to be that team. Detroit hadn’t had a no-hitter pitched against it in years. I didn’t want to be the guy from Detroit who finally got no-hit.
One of the beautiful aspects of baseball’s Code is that two people can see things from opposite perspectives, and each can make a convincing argument as to why he’s correct. I disagree with Leyland’s opinion; if a game like that is out of hand, things should be left to run their course.
Take, for example, the instance in 1932, when Detroit curveball specialist Tommy Bridges took a perfect game into the ninth inning against Washington. With two outs and facing a 13-0 deficit, Senators manager Walter Johnson sent pinch-hitter Dave Harris to the plate, primarily because Harris was an adept curveball hitter. Sure enough, he connected for a single, ruining Bridges’ feat. For his move, Johnson was roundly condemned by pundits around the country.
Bridges, however, took up a stance that would make Leyland proud. “I would rather earn it the competitive way,” he said, “than have it handed to me.”