No-Hitter Etiquette

No-No No Mo’: On Yanking One’s Pitcher in the Middle of a No-Hitter

Manaea

The unwritten rule—not to mention conventional wisdom—is that one doesn’t pull one’s pitcher while he’s throwing a no-hitter. Managers have gone to great lengths to protect this credo, notably during Johan Santana’s 134-pitch no-no in 2012, which left him with an indelible mark on history … and ruined his arm forever. (Santana put up an 8.27 ERA in 10 more starts for the Mets that season before being shut down, and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since.)

Santana’s manager in that game, Terry Collins, left him in for a variety of reasons, among which was the Mets having never thrown a no-hitter. Over the weekend, A’s skipper Bob Melvin and Marlins boss Don Mattingly were under no such constraints.

On Saturday in Oakland, 25-year-old Sean Manaea came hot out of the gate against the Astros, cruising through the first five innings, during which he struck out six, walked two and gave up no hits.

Then came the sixth. With the A’s holding a 5-0 lead, Manaea walked the first batter, then the second, then the third. It took him only 15 pitches to do so, the last eight of them balls. When Carlos Correa smoked a line drive that ricocheted off the glove of shortstop Adam Rosales, leading to two runs, Melvin had seen enough.

Manaea, in only his third start of the season, was at 98 pitches. Even if he stayed in, there was virtually no chance he’d be able to finish the game. Melvin pulled him.

This was nothing like Clay Kirby being pulled from a no-hitter in 1970 because his team was losing and his manager wanted a pinch-hitter. It was more like the moves made by Ron Gardenhire and Ron Washington, managers who, in the span of about a week in 2010, each yanked a no-hit pitcher whose workload was growing untenable.  Same with Dave Roberts, last year.

(It should be noted that Melvin had been primed to do the same thing five years ago—the day after Santana’s feat—as Jarrod Parker spun no-hit ball, but Parker gave up a hit before his manager could take action.)

On Sunday, Mattingly found himself in similar circumstances when Marlins pitcher Dan Straily entered the sixth without having given up a hit. After Straily walked consecutive batters, however—giving him five on the day and bringing him to 93 pitches—he was sent to the showers. Noteworthy was that Miami led only 1-0 at the time, and Mattingly’s maneuver was aimed as much toward securing a victory as it was protecting Straily.

 

That the Astros, after being no-hit into the sixth inning, ended up scoring 10 runs on the day, is interesting. So is the fact that in Miami, J.T. Riddle hit his first career homer only moments after the would-be winning run was thrown out at the plate, to salt the game away for the Marlins.

Neither detail, however, superseded the fact that Melvin and Mattingly pulled their pitchers in the middle of no-hitters, not to mention that both moves were the right thing to do.

 

No-Hitter Etiquette, Uncategorized

What Price Glory?

Stripling

Talk surrounding the decision of Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts to pull Ross Stripling from the middle of a own no-hitter on Friday was based largely on the fact that he was a rookie. Stripling, sure—but also Roberts.

Stripling was making his first major league start. He was at 100 pitches when pulled, after having maxed out at 78 pitches through spring training. He missed all of 2014 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and spent last season making his way back.

These are valid concerns. Perhaps if Roberts had more than four games under his belt as a big league skipper at the time, people wouldn’t have been quite so vociferous with their objections.

Then again, he did break an unwritten rule … or at least a portion of one. The overarching theory has to do with not changing anything during a no-hitter, from the defensive alignment behind a pitcher to the spots on the bench occupied by his teammates. This also covers the pitcher himself, although when a guy is going that well he is usually beyond consideration of being removed.

It’s all just superstition, of course, and it’s not like managers hadn’t done this kind of thing before.

In 2010, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire pulled Kevin Slowey after seven innings of no-hit ball after the right-hander , who had just skipped a start due to elbow soreness, had thrown 106 pitches.

Only eight days later, Rangers manager Ron Washington pulled Rich Harden from a no-hitter, in his first start back off the DL, after 111 pitches. Other instances abound:

  • 1997: Pittsburgh’s Francisco Cordova departed after 121 pitches and nine innings of no-hit ball against the Astros.
  • 1991: Atlanta’s Kent Mercker left after six no-hit innings, in his second start of the year following 44 relief appearances, none of which were longer than two frames.
  • 1991: Anaheim’s Mark Langston went seven innings (98 pitches) against the Mariners in his first start of the season, after throwing only 16 innings during spring training due to a lockout.
  • 1975: Oakland’s Vida Blue was removed after the fifth on the season’s final day, a timeframe predetermined by manager Alvin Dark in an effort to keep the pitcher fresh for the playoffs.
  • Manager Preston Gomez actually pulled the trick twice, once with the Padres in 1970 (removing Clay Kirby, who trailed, 1-0 at the time), and again in 1974 with the Astros, pulling Don Wilson (who also trailed, 2-1).

Those examples, however, carry less weight than one instance that should have been included on this list. On June 30, 2012, Mets manager Terry Collins succumbed to popular (and historical) sentiment, and allowed pitcher Johan Santana to complete an eight-inning no-hitter. Lending weight to his decision was that it was the first in Mets’ history. Unfortunately, it took the lefthander 134 pitches to do it.

Santana had missed the entire previous season after shoulder surgery, and Collins had him on a strict 115-pitch limit … right up until history came calling. Santana pulled it off, but at a cost: He made five more starts that season, losing them all while compiling an astounding 15.63 ERA. He was shut down that August and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since.

In light of that detail, pulling Stripling was the logical choice. Perhaps Roberts could have left him in a few batters longer, but, with the guy’s control deserting him—he walked the final batter he faced—it seemed obvious that relief help would be needed at some point. And if that was the case, why keep him in any longer than necessary?

It wasn’t only Roberts who felt this way. Giants manager Bruce Bochy defended his counterpart, saying in an Associated Press report that “It’s the kid’s first start and they have to take care of him … You have to look after his health, and that’s what they were doing.” Even Stripling’s father offered up support for the decision.

Superstition is great, but players’ careers are far more important. Roberts made the right call.

Bryce Harper, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Uncategorized, Unwritten-Rules, Washington Nationals

Bryce Harper and Sergio Romo: Secretly Simpatico?

Keep calm

For a while, it seemed like yesterday would belong to Bryce Harper’s views about baseball’s unwritten rules.

Then Goose Gossage opened his mouth. In what appears to be coincidental timing, the Hall of Fame reliever unloaded to ESPN about noted bat-flipper Jose Bautista being “a fucking disgrace to the game,” among other choice sentiments that ran directly counter to Harper. Gossage, of course, is his generation’s It-Was-Better-When-I-Played standard-bearer, the guy to turn to for strident opinions.

His comments came in response to a benign question about new Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman, and quickly veered not only to slamming Bautista, but to complaints about how “fucking nerds” who “don’t know shit” are ruining the game from front-office positions, that “fucking steroid user” Ryan Braun gets ovations in Milwaukee, and that modern relievers are too focused on pitch counts and not enough on the game itself.

Gossage, a world-class griper, was simply doing what he does best.

He would have been easier to dismiss had not Giants reliever Sergio Romo—one of the game’s free spirits, a guy loose enough to rock this t-shirt at the Giants’ 2012 victory parade—himself dismissed Harper later in the day.

“Don’t put your foot in your mouth when you’re the face of the game and you just won the MVP,” Romo said about Harper in a San Jose Mercury News report. “I’m sorry, but just shut up.”

In response to Harper’s comment that baseball “is a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself,” the reliever offered a succinct takedown.

“I’m pretty sure if someone has enough money,” he responded, “he can find another job if this is really tired.”

Thing is, Romo and Harper actually seem to agree about most of what they said. Romo is himself demonstrative on the mound, showing more emotion while pitching than perhaps anybody in Giants history. He took care to note, however, the difference between excitement and impudence.

“As emotional and as fiery as I am, I do my best not to look to the other dugout,” he said. “I look to the ground, I look to my dugout, to the sky, to the stands. It’s warranted to be excited. But there is a way to go about it to not show disrespect, not only to the other team but the game itself.”

With those four sentences, Romo cut to the heart of the issue. Contrary to those trying to position this as a cross-coast battle of wills, Harper did not say much to contradict that sentiment.

Baseball’s unwritten rules have changed markedly over the last decade. There is more acceptance of showmanship now than at any point in the sport’s history, and scattershot blasts from the likes of Goose Gossage will not slow that momentum. Because the Code has changed, however, does not mean that it is failing.

The real power of the unwritten rules lies in the maintenance of respect—between teams, within clubhouses and, as Romo went out of his way to note, for the game itself. This core value has not eroded at all.

What has changed over time is ballplayers’ ability to distinguish displays of emotion from displays of disrespect. When the mainstream decides  that bat flips are an acceptable form of self-expression, they no longer have the power to offend.

The reason this hasn’t already gained universal acceptance is that not all bat flips (used here as a proxy for any number of emotional displays) are equal. Bautista’s display during last season’s playoffs was magnificent. Some bats are flipped, however, not with celebration in mind, but in an effort to denigrate the opposition. It might, as Romo noted, include a staredown of the pitcher (as Harper himself has been known to do). It might be some extra lingering around the box, or a glacial trot around the bases. At that point, the method of the opposition’s response—which includes the option of not responding at all—becomes a valid concern.

Romo talked about this distinction, and its importance to the game. Surprisingly, so did Harper.

The MVP noted that Jose Fernandez “will strike you out and stare you down into the dugout and pump his fist.” Because Harper doesn’t take it as a sign of disrespect, Harper doesn’t care. And if Fernandez does not intend it as such, nobody else should, either. (Worth noting is that Fernandez learned an important lesson in this regard early in his career.)

The main fault with Romo’s diatribe was that he inadvertently piggybacked it atop Gossage’s inane old-man ramblings. Still, he lent some nuance to a discourse which sorely needs it, and perhaps inadvertently pointed out that he and Harper have more in common than either of them might otherwise believe.

Ultimately, the question seems to be less “Can’t we all just get along?” than “Why haven’t we figured out that we’re getting along already?”

Cheating, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, No-Hitter Etiquette, Pine Tar

Did Fiers Cheat? Should Anyone Care?

Fiers glove

Mike Fiers’ no-hitter on Friday was as notable for his opponents’ reactions as for the event itself. Any no-hitter offers a significant degree of intrigue, but this one gained steam when the television broadcast appeared to show a shiny substance on Fiers’ glove in the ninth inning, assumed to be pine tar.

Rather than bemoan their fate at the hands of a possible cheater, however, the Dodgers took the appropriate path, issuing credit where it was due and downplaying any semblance of controversy.

“I don’t want to take anything away from his night,” Carl Crawford told the Los Angeles Times. Don Mattingly said, “I think it sounds like you’re whining if you look at it and talk about it,” and added (without accusation) that pine tar use is more or less accepted unless it’s “blatantly obvious.” (Fiers, for his part, denied everything.)

Regardless of whether Fiers was using a banned substance, those in the Los Angeles clubhouse know that they have pitchers among their own ranks who do that very thing—as does every club in baseball. And if every club does it, it’s not such a catastrophe. And if it’s not such a catastrophe, why paint it as such? Mattingly respected Fiers’ feat for what it was, exactly as he should have done.

Well played, Dodgers.

No-Hitter Etiquette

So What’s an Inside Pitch Between Friends?

Scherzer no-noDid he or didn’t he? Is Jose Tabata a perfect-game-spoiling ruiner of all things good, or a baffled hitter in a long string of baffled hitters to face Max Scherzer on Saturday? Was he leaning into the pitch, or drawing away from the pitch? Is the dress blue and black, or white and gold?

These are questions based on intent and situation. Tabata, of course, was hit by a pitch with one out to go in Scherzer’s would-be perfect game. Does a batter do anything possible to reach base so late in a game—which, at 6-0, has been all but lost—in which his teammates had not really come close? Is getting hit by a pitch to break up a perfect game anything like bunting to break up a no-hitter?

The answer is easy: Of course it isn’t. Tabata didn’t lean into the pitch. He watched a breaking ball that didn’t break as expected, and drew back his elbow—into the path of the ball as it turned out—far too late to make a difference. (Watch it here.)

Far more interesting is the question of insertion. It is fair under certain circumstances to question a manager for inserting a top-flight player into a blowout game for the sole purpose of spoiling a no-hitter. Tabata was pinch-hitting, but in this case somebody had to—the spot in the order belonged to reliever Vance Worley. So, given that the Nationals were already the presumptive victors, was Pirates manager Clint Hurdle under any obligation to utilize a lesser bench player? Would it have been more appropriate to call upon somebody like Corey Hart, who has more at-bats than Tabata this season but is hitting 90 points lower?

Nope. Leave it to Hurdle’s predecessor in Pittsburgh, Jim Leyland, to explain the situation. I spoke to him in 2010, when he was managing the Detroit Tigers, about his decision to pinch-hit Ramon Santiago with two outs in the ninth inning against Chicago’s Matt Garza, who was pitching his own no-hitter. Detroit was losing, 5-0, and Leyland admitted to me that winning the game no longer factored into his strategy. (Santiago flied out to end it. Detroit’s starting pitcher that day: Max Scherzer.)

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.

And then:

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.

All fair points. I take some issue with the idea of pinch-hitting for a position player at that point—when a loss is all but assured—in a potentially historic game. It’s a point at which everything reverts to the status quo. Defensive alignments should be left alone, as should lineups. Even umpires should shade their calls with an eye toward the feat at hand, ruling in the favor of history on plays close enough for debate. Jim Joyce blowing an out call at first base during Armando Galarraga’s would-be perfect game is a prime example. Another came in 1972, when, with Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas 26 outs into his own perfect game, plate ump Bruce Froemming ruled that a full-count pitch, close enough to argue, was a ball. (Pappas retired the following batter to complete the no-hitter.) Unlike that instance, there was no space for interpretation with Scherzer’s HBP—there was only one call for the umpire to make.

In this case, sending up Tabata to hit for the pitcher was the right move. Hurdle played it properly, Tabata did nothing wrong (Scherzer admitted as much) and the baseball world was deprived of a historic feat under appropriate circumstances.