David Wells, No-Hitter Etiquette

Wells Was Perfect 15 Years Ago

David WellsIt’s the 15th anniversary of David Wells’ perfect game, and to celebrate, MLB has made the entire game video available on YouTube.

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.)

No-Hitter Etiquette, Rookie Hazing

Yu Who? Backpack Season is Upon Us

Rangers backpackWith 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.”


No-Hitter Etiquette

Don’t Mess With My No-No: Speier’s Meddling Works Out in the End

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.




Dave Righetti, No-Hitter Etiquette

Yankee Doodle Dandy: Looking Back at Rags’ July 4 No-No

On Independence Day, it seems pertinent to reference the anniversary of one of the great feats to take place on this day, baseball-wise: Dave Righetti’s no-hitter, on July 4, 1983.

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.

Matt Cain, No-Hitter Etiquette

Cain Conquers Code, Overcomes Slew of Jinxes to Reach Perfection

There are some lines Bruce Bochy is willing to cross, and some that he’s not.

Case in point: Matt Cain’s perfect game Wednesday night. Bochy was willing to make some small changes: Emmanuel Burriss replaced Ryan Theriot at second base in the sixth, and in the seventh, Joaquin Arias slid from shortstop to third base, replacing Pablo Sandoval, with Brandon Crawford inserted at shortstop.

The Burriss substitution, said Bochy after the game, was aimed at giving playing time to one player and rest to another during a 10-0 blowout. The seventh-inning switches, however, were made with perfection in mind, Bochy putting the best defense possible behind Cain. Sure enough, the first batter of the eighth, J.D. Martinez, hit a slow roller to third, which Arias charged, gloved cleanly, and threw on a line to nip the runner. And with two outs in the ninth, Arias fielded a sharply hit ball down the line and made the long throw in plenty of time to preserve Cain’s perfection. (Watch it here. Full highlights here.)

“We went against every unwritten rule in the book, I know, but Boch and I just thought we had to have our best defense in there at the end, and it worked out,” said Giants bench coach Ron Wotus. “Panda [Sandoval] would have a tough time making those two plays as easily as Arias made them.”

When it came to warming up a pitcher, however, Bochy was significantly more sly. With a comfortable lead, he wanted a reliever ready should Cain—whose pitch count through seven was 103—give up a hit. The manager was cognizant, however, of the emotional toll the sight of bullpen activity can take on a nerve-wracked starter, so he had reliever Shane Loux warming up “down underneath,” either in the batting cage or in the tunnel below the stands.

“We had somebody ready,” he said. “You couldn’t see him, but he was there.”

Far less tactful was first baseman Brandon Belt, who looked up from his seat in the dugout in the seventh inning, and was startled to see Cain in front of him.

“I sat down and Cainer just stopped and stared at me,” Belt told CSN Bay Area‘s Andrew Baggarly, referencing the superstition that nothing in the dugout order can change under such circumstances. “Yeah, I guess everything was OK until I sat in his seat.”

As if to follow suit, not only was the Giants television broadcast crew more than happy to reference the no-hitter, but prior to the ninth inning showed a “Giants No-Hit History” graphic, featuring each of San Francisco’s five previous no-hitters.

Just goes to show that dominant pitching trumps jinxes every time.

Update (6-15-12): Cain’s family is full of Code adherents.

C.J. Wilson, No-Hitter Etiquette

Wilson ‘Bummed’ by CarGo’s Bunt

Just a few days back, Dee Gordon tried to bunt for what would have been his team’s first hit against the Mariners.

Because it was only the fourth inning, and because speed is such an integral part to Gordon’s game, and because Seattle led only 1-0, none of the Mariners gave it much thought.

The same couldn’t be said regarding Carlos Gonzalez, who last Friday—the same day as Gordon’s effort—bunted for Colorado’s first hit against the Angels. The circumstances were remarkably similar: It was the fourth inning, it was a tack he regularly uses (he’d already had one bunt single this year, and tallied six last season), and his team trailed only 2-0.

The primary difference: The attitude of the pitcher he was facing.

“Anytime a guy like him drops a bunt down, it’s a little shocking,” said Angels starter C.J. Wilson in an MLB.com report. “I was bummed about that from a competitive standpoint. I guess he just wanted to get on base.”

Sure, Gonzalez is known for his power more than his speed, which in turn causes third basemen to play deeper than they might for somebody like Gordon. Ultimately, however, if there’s a defensive hole to exploit, one can hardly fault a hitter for trying.

“He was throwing nasty pitches, so why would you take that away from me?” Gonzalez said. “That’s part of my game. . . . We were only down by two runs. Maybe in a different situation, I would try to swing the bat because I know how hard it is for pitchers to give up the first hit with a bunt. But I wanted to get my team going and he was dominating.”

The Angels won, 7-2, and there was no retaliation against Gonzalez. Using Wilson’s own vernacular, “bummed” doesn’t necessarily mean “angry,” which may have had to do with the fact that Gonzalez didn’t exactly break up a game for the ages—CarGo’s was one of five hits Wilson gave up on the day.

Then again, the pitcher did see fit to address the matter after the game, even while he should have been basking in an outstanding (one run over eight innings) performance.

Seems there’s just no pleasing some people.

No-Hitter Etiquette

No-No-No-No-No-No in Seattle Leaves at Least a Couple People Confused

Remember all those conversations people were having just last week about whether one could justifiably pull a pitcher in the middle of his own no-hitter? Sometimes it’s a moot point.

On Friday, Seattle’s Kevin Milwood tossed six no-hit innings against the Dodgers, then strained his groin while warming up prior to the seventh. Five Mariners relievers followed with three more innings of no-hit ball. (It was the 10th combined no-hitter in big league history; the latest—Houston’s defeat of the Yankees in 2003—also had six, and also had a starter, Roy Oswalt, depart early after an injury.)

Several noteworthy slices of Code cropped up in the process. One of the most popular refrains from those decrying the dreaded no-hitter jinx stipulation, which mandates that the feat must not be spoken about until it is completed, is that there’s no way a pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter has somehow failed to realize that he’s in the middle of a no-hitter.

Improbably, though, Seattle reliever Tom Wilhelmsen failed to realize exactly that. Wilhelmsen, who closed out the game for the Mariners, was eventually informed of the circumstances by his catcher.

“I told him, ‘Man, you threw a no-hitter!'” said Jesus Montero, in an ESPN report. “And he didn’t know! Unbelievable.”

Wilhelmsen tried to add some nuance to the claim. “Well, I mean, I knew what was going on,” he said. “But no, I have a brain fart every so often and just focused so hard on getting one thing done. It’s not like you forget, but it’s like you put it off to the side. And then it’s like, ‘Holy cow, we just did it,’ and Montero is in my arms.”

To be fair, five pitching changes can distract from the execution of a fairly unique feat; Wilhelmsen wasn’t the only one who lost track of things.

“Coming into the ninth, it wasn’t really on my mind . . .” said Seattle shortstop Brendan Ryan, who entered in the ninth as a defensive replacement. “It kind of took five seconds or so to sink in. ‘Wait a minute. Wait a minute. There were no hits. That’s a no-hitter!'”

That said, not everybody was so clueless. Reliever Stephen Pryor (who was credited with the victory after pitching to all of one batter recording all of one out), told the Seattle Times that, Wilhelmsen apparently aside, they were aware of it in the bullpen. “We knew, but we weren’t talking about it,” he said. “We didn’t want to jinx it.”

Someone who very clearly didn’t mind jinxing it was Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon, who tried to bunt for a hit in the fourth inning. While some take this topic—breaking up a no-hitter with a bunt—very seriously, Gordon has facts on his side. For one, it was only the fourth inning—far to early to consider the deed sacrosanct, even for the likes of Bob Brenly. For another, speed makes up nearly the entirety of Gordon’s offensive game; beating out bunts is what he does, so to assume he’d suddenly table one of his strengths in a close game is far from reasonable. The score was only 1-0, so even if Gordon had tried it in the eighth, he would likely have not drawn much protest from the Mariners.

No word yet about whether Seattle players took it upon themselves to avoid all six pitchers in the dugout for fear of the mighty jinx. Seems like a tall order.