Francisco Liriano, Gamesmanship, No-Hitter Etiquette, Ron Gardenhire

Liriano’s No-Hitter Rife with Unwritten Rules

As you may have heard, Franciso Liriano threw a no-hitter this week. And of course, the Code was involved—because the Code is always involved in no-hitters.

Like many of his no-hit-pitching brethren, the Twins left-hander insisted that he wasn’t even aware that he hadn’t allowed a hit until late in the game. It was only when he became a dugout pariah in the eighth inning, he said, his teammates avoiding him at any cost, that he grokked what was going on.

“When everybody was walking away from me and nobody was talking to me, I was like ‘What’s going on?’ ” he said in USA Today.

(When told that Liriano said he didn’t realize he had a no-hit bid until the eighth inning, Twins catcher Drew Butera said, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “He’s lying. I think they all realize it.”)

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Elsewhere on the field, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire stuck to the unwritten rule mandating ultimate respect for a feat like Liriano’s. Despite the fact the right-hander’s pitch count was at 116 with one out to go, and despite the fact Liriano hadn’t thrown more than 97 pitches in a game this season, and despite the fact that he had never thrown a complete game in more than 200 professional starts, and most of all despite the fact that the winning run was at the plate in a 1-0 game and Liriano was clearly tiring, Gardenhire left him in.

“I wasn’t walking out there to the mound, I’ll tell you that,” he said in the Star Tribune. “He looked like he was doing fine. It was cool night. It was his ballgame the whole way.”

Asked if he was prepared to stick with Liriano all the way, Gardenhire said: “How far is all the way? He can only load the bases and then probably something’s gotta happen.”

Gardenhire didn’t show nearly that much restraint last season, when he pulled Kevin Slowey from a game in which he had similarly given up no hits. The difference: Slowey was battling an elbow so sore that he had missed his previous start, and after seven innings had already thrown more than Garendhire was comfortable seeing. Eight days later, Rangers manager Ron Washington did something similar with Rich Harden.

Also last year, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he was ready to pull C.C. Sabathia from his early-season start even before he gave up his first hit of the game, in the eighth inning.

The standard-keeper for yanking pitchers from the midst of perfection is Preston Gomez, who did it twice, with two different teams. If nothing else, the guy was clearly a man of conviction.

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One more Code-based moment occurred during Liriano’s gem, when umpire Paul Emmel ruled that Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau tagged Chicago’s Gordon Beckham as the White Sox second baseman raced by him in an effort to beat out a double-play grounder.

Had Morneau tagged him? Of course not. Did he sell it as if he had? Of course he did. That’s what ballplayers do. If the game is willing to tolerate the great lengths to which players will go to gain an advantage—bat corking and ball scuffing and sign stealing and etc.—it’d be a tall order to expect a player to give up a free out granted him by an unsuspecting umpire.

It’s why diving outfielders act as if they’ve caught balls that they know they trapped, why hitters facing three-ball counts will sometimes lean toward first after the next pitch, trying to influence ball four even if they felt it was a strike.

It’s all part of baseball. Now enjoy that no-hitter.

– Jason

Kevin Slowey, No-Hitter Etiquette, Ron Gardenhire

Pulling Slowey Nothing to Get Worked Up Over

It was a big deal Sunday, in a novelty kind of way, when Ron Gardenhire pulled Kevin Slowey from his start, despite the fact that his pitcher had not given up a hit to the A’s.

By almost all counts, it was the correct thing to do. It was Slowey’s first start since being skipped in the rotation due to elbow soreness, and he was on a short leash from the outset. He had thrown 106 pitches when he was pulled.

Some decry the concept of pitch counts in the modern game, but Slowey’s removal was not without precedent.

In 1997, Pittsburgh’s Francisco Cordova was lifted after 121 pitches and nine innings of no-hit ball against the Astros; reliever Ricardo Rincon worked one hitless frame and the Pirates won it in the 10th.

In the first combined no-hitter in National League history, Atlanta’s Kent Mercker was pulled after six innings in a 1991 game. It was just his second start of the year, after 44 relief appearances, most of which lasted just a single inning and none of which stretched beyond two. (Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena combined to shut down the Padres over the final three frames.)

Pitchers have been pulled from no-hitters because it’s early in the season (Anaheim’s Mark Langston was allowed only seven innings and 98 pitches against the Mariners in his first start of the 1991 campaign, which was reasonable after he got in only 16 innings of spring training work due to a lockout) and late (A’s pitcher Vida Blue threw five frames of no-hit ball against the Angels on the final day of the 1975 season before being removed to stay fresh for the playoffs.)

Then there was San Diego’s Clay Kirby, who was pulled from his 1970 no-hitter by manager Preston Gomez for a pinch hitter, because the Padres were losing and needed an offensive boost.

Gardenhire is in good company. If anyone still doubts his strategy, the bottom line is this: Slowey is still healthy enough to give it another go in his next start, and that counts more than anything.

– Jason

– Jason