The Beauty of the No-Hitter

I love no-hitters. They’re probably my favorite anomaly in sports. I say anomaly because they are rare, unexpected, and no two are exactly alike.   They can be tossed by a Hall of Famer (Nolan Ryan, a staggering seven times), a guy with  a career record of 9-13 (Mike Warren, Oakland A’s), or  a committee of  six (Roy Oswalt, Peter Munro, Kirk Saarloos, Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, and Billy Wagner of the Houston Astros  in 2003). They can be a polished gem like the perfecto tossed by Sandy Koufax against the Cubs in 1965 (an autographed photo of the moment hangs on my wall) or  a shard of glass like the eight-walk effort tossed by Dock Ellis against San Diego in 1970 (a game in which Ellis later claimed he was high on LSD)

I almost wrote this post last week when Toronto’s Ricky Romero took a no-no into the eighth inning against the White Sox, only to lose it with two outs. But I figured it could wait until the first no-hitter of the season. If it didn’t come by July, then I’d write it anyway. That’s how much I love no-hitters. Well, luckily, I only had to wait five more days as Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez held the Braves hitless at Turner Field yesterday — the first such feat  in the Rockies’ 18-year history.

Nolan Ryan threw seven no-hitters -- long after he departed the Mets, of course.

For me, no-hitters are elusive and tantalizing. I’ve attended hundreds of games in my life, but have never come close to witnessing one in person, primarily because I’m a  Mets fan. Now in their 49th season, the Mets have never had a no-hitter. Tom Seaver came close  — three times he lost one in the ninth inning, including a  perfect game with two outs to go against the Cubs in July of 1969 (thank you, Jimmy Qualls).   Of course, Seaver would pitch a no-hitter with the Reds in 1978  — one of several pitchers to do so after starting or spending part of their career in the Mets organization, a group that includes Ryan, Jim Bibby, Doc Gooden, Mike Scott , David Cone, A.J. Burnett, and Hideo Nomo. Even Mets catchers are allergic to no-hitters. Mike Piazza caught two BEFORE joining the Mets  (Ramon Martinez, Hideo Nomo), while Jerry Grote (Ken Johnson), J.C. Martin (Joel Horlen), Duffy Dyer (John Candelaria), Gary Carter (Charlie Lea), and Alberto Castillo (Jose Jimenez) caught one.  The real clincher is Ramon Castro, who spent more than four years as the Mets backstop. He gets traded to the White Sox in 2009 and within weeks, catches Mark Buehrle’s perfect game.  And by the way: two former Mets broadcasters (Tim McCarver, Fran Healy) caught no-hitters, as did two of their former managers (Yogi Berra, Jeff Torborg). 

 The Boston Red Sox, on the other hand, have recorded four no-hitters since 2001 — Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Nomo, and Derek Lowe.  It’s not enough that the Sox win two World Series in the last decade after an 86-year drought, but they notch four no-no’s as well? Some teams have all the luck! Which brings us to the Yankees. While they were running rough-shod over the rest of baseball from 1996-2000, they had a  no-hitter and two perfect games — all at home (Gooden, Cone, David Wells). And two by ex-Mets, for heaven’s sake!     

The closest I ever came to attending a no-hit game was on July 4, 1978 when Pat Zachry of the Mets had one going with two outs in the sixth inning against the Phillies at Shea. I can’t recall who broke it up, but it was probably an ex-Met. However, one might argue that the one-hitter I saw Nolan Ryan pitch against those same Phillies in April of 1970 was closer — kind of in reverse. Then pitching for the Amazin’s, Ryan gave up a lead-off single to Denny Doyle and did not allow another hit while fanning 15. It was the first of 14 one-hitters Ryan would throw in his career  to go with his seven no-hitters. Little did I (or Mets management, apparently) imagine what lay ahead. 

Koufax throwing the heat that ignited four no-hitters.

Whenever I hear that a no-hitter has been thrown, my mind races. I rummage through my baseball memory for parallels, ironies, and common denominators. The Jimenez gem, for example, got me thinking: who was the last pitcher to ice the Braves?  Randy Johnson, who went perfecto at Turner Field in May of 2004. And who was the last Braves’ pitcher to throw a donut in the hit column? Kent Mercker, April of 1994 vs. the Dodgers.   

I can write an entire book about my infatuation with no-hitters (maybe I will some day, but not before one is thrown by a  Met), but here is some of the more intriguing minutiae that makes me giddy about one team’s failure to record a single hit during an entire game  — a credit to my memory and Wikipedia for much of this. 

  • Notables who never threw a no-hitter: Jack Chesbro, Lefty Grove, Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Roger Clemens.
  • The only man to catch four no-hitters: Jason Varitek (Boston)  
  • Longest stretch between no-hit games: 14 years (Randy Johnson)
  • While the Mets have not had a no-hitter in 48+ seasons, the Montreal Expos (now Washington Nationals) recorded one in their ninth game in franchise history, by Bill Stoneman in April of 1969. Three years later, Stoneman would record his second no-hitter — against, who else? The Mets. 
  • Jewish pitchers of no-hit fame: Koufax, Ken Holtzman, Bo Belinsky
  • Best name by a pitcher who threw a no-hitter: Noodles Hahn

    Noodles Hahn

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