Saturday, July 11, 2009
No-Hitters Aren’t Just For Baseball’s Elite
The no-hitter Friday night by San Francisco Giants hurler Jonathan Sanchez is a reminder that one of baseball’s most hallowed accomplishments is not just reserved for pitchers with lofty career statistics. Instead, for one night anyone (even a pitcher with a 16-26 career record) can look like a Hall of Famer and stamp himself a place in baseball immortality.
No-hitters have a special place in baseball lore because, while there are other accomplishments that occur with less frequency, a no-hitter is one feat that can seemingly come out of nowhere.
That was no more evident than in the case of Sanchez.
Having spent the last three weeks in the bullpen after losing his spot in the rotation–he entered Friday’s game with a 2-8 season record–Sanchez only got the start against the San Diego Padres because future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson (owner of two career no-hitters) went on the disabled list earlier this week.
The left-hander made the most of his opportunity, as he was nearly perfect. He struck out 11 batters and had a perfect game until an error in the eighth inning. He did not surrender a walk in the contest.
No-hitters are also a special moment for an entire team because, while the pitcher gets and deserves much of the credit, it is truly an achievement that is dependent on everyone playing at a high level for the entire game.
That was quite clear in the ninth inning Friday as Sanchez’s bid would have ended two outs shy of completion had centerfielder Aaron Rowand not made an incredible catch at the wall to rob Edgar Gonzalez of an extra base hit.
Sanchez is just the latest in a long line of pitchers with otherwise forgettable careers who will forever be recognized as having been, for one night at least, un-hittable.
His no-no is the 262nd in baseball history and 220th since 1900.
While there are many Hall of Fame pitchers who have thrown no-hitters, including Nolan Ryan (seven times), Sandy Koufax (four), Warren Spahn (2), Jim Bunning (2), Catfish Hunter, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver and Juan Marichal, there are many pitchers with plaques in Cooperstown that never achieved such one-game greatness.
In fact, except for Johnson, the most recent additions to the 300-victory club never accomplished the feat. Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens combined to win 1,014 career games, yet none of the three ever threw a no-hitter.
Then consider that four pitchers who have thrown no-hitters this decade–Anibal Sanchez (15 wins), Clay Buchholz (5), Bud Smith (7) and Sanchez (16)–have a total of 42 career victories between them.
Other pitchers whose names may not be recognizable, but who pitched a no-hitter in the majors include Ed Halicki (55 wins), George Culver (48), Tommy Greene (38), Joe Cowley (33), Juan Nieves (32) and Mike Warren (9).
Of course, the most famous no-hitter in baseball history was the perfect game thrown by Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series. Larsen was never confused for one of the greats of his era as he posted an 81-91 career-record and never won more than 11 games in a season.
No-hitters also are magical because they can serve as the defining moment for pitchers who have battled against great odds and difficulties to gain, or return to, greatness.
The no-hitter in 1993 by Jim Abbott, who pitched 10 years in the majors despite being born without a right hand, will forever serve as inspiration for people trying to overcome adversity.
Similarly, the no-hitter by Jon Lester in May of 2008 served as his signal to the baseball world that he was completely recovered from the lymphoma that many thought might end his promising career just two years earlier. He went on to win 16 games that season and remains one of the key hurlers on the Red Sox.
It is not surprising that Dwight Gooden pitched a no-hitter during his career, but what is surprising is that it didn’t happen during his tenure as the best pitcher in the game for the New York Mets. Instead, it happened a decade later while pitching for the New York Yankees.
At the time, Gooden’s no-no seemed to serve as a re-birth for the former All-Star following his long-time battle with substance abuse. Even though his struggles continued following that moment, the memory of him being carried off the field by thrilled teammates illustrates the power a no-hitter can have to, in one night, turn mediocrity into greatness.
It is likely that Sanchez’s career peaked with his near-perfect performance against the Padres. However, for he and his father–who was in attendance–it is a memory that will never get old.
Plus, for the rest of time, Sanchez will know that for one night, he was the best pitcher in baseball.