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.
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:
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.
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.
Did 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.
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.
Does Sonny Gray believe in the Baseball Gods? Sonny Gray does not believe in the Baseball Gods.
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.)