NO-HITTER!! Or Was It A Three Hitter? A History Of Hitless Games

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baseball no hitter history
Do you know the history of no-hitter baseball games? Copyright image by Decoded Sports, all rights reserved

Recently (June 9), Chris Heston of the San Francisco Giants pitched an unusual no-hitter — the only three batters to reach base were hit by pitches (hbp).

An official no-hitter, of course, refers only to no base-hits. No-hitters often include walks, sometimes errors, and only occasionally an hbp. This is the first time three batters were hit during a ho-hitter. And strangely, Heston walked none.

The San Francisco pitchers have now thrown at least one no-hitter in four consecutive seasons, just the second time a franchise has accomplished the feat. And it is the first time that more than one pitcher was involved; Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers pitched a no-hitter in four consecutive seasons.

What’s Better Than a No-Hitter?

You wouldn’t think that anything could outdo a no-hit pitching performance, but when no batters at all reach base, it’s called a perfect game. You couldn’t get much more perfect than retiring twenty-seven batters in a row — or could you?

Harvey Haddix
Harvey Haddix pitched twelve perfect innings in a game — and lost. Image by Delaywaves.

On May, 26, 1959, the Pittsburgh Pirates played the Atlanta Braves in Atlanta. It was probably the greatest pitchers’ duel in the history of baseball.

Harvey Haddix was on the mound for the Pirates and Lew Burdette for the Braves. The game went into the 13th inning with no score.

Not only that — the Braves had not had a single baserunner. Harvey Haddix pitched what would normally have been a perfect game — except that his team didn’t score and the game continued into extra innings.

In the last of the thirteenth, Felix Mantilla led off with a grounder to third. Don Hoak, the usually accurate third baseman for Pittsburgh, threw wildly to first base, and Mantilla became the first Braves baserunner via the error.

Eddie Mathews sacrificed Mantilla to second and Haddix walked Henry Aaron intentionally. It was the only walk issued by either pitcher all day.

Joe Adcock then hit a double to center field and Mantilla scored the winning run. Haddix is credited with neither a perfect game nor a no-hitter, nor even a ‘nice try’ for his effort. It simply appears in his record as a loss.

Obscured in the hubbub about Haddix’s phenomenal performance was Burdette’s complete-game 13-inning shutout.

The Most Famous No-Hitter

Don Larsen
Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in World Series history. Image by Jaranda~commonswiki.

Although Haddix’s game is memorable, the most famous perfect game has to be Don Larsen’s in game 5 of the 1956 World Series. Haddix was a great pitcher who won 20 games in 1953 and led the league with six shutouts that year. His career record was 136-113.

Larsen was a journeyman pitcher, who, though he had several good years with the Yankees, ended his career with an 81-91 record, including one year in which he lost 21 games.

Larsen had started game 2 of the ’56 series and been knocked out in the second inning. Still, Manager Casey Stengel started him in game 5 with the series tied 2-2. He responded with the only perfect game in World Series history. He was so masterful that after the first inning he didn’t throw three balls to a single batter. There were a couple of excellent plays in the field, including a miraculous catch by Mickey Mantle, but Larsen’s performance was as exceptional as it was unexpected.

A Famous World Series Almost No-Hitter

In 1947, the Yankees led the Dodgers 2 games to 1 in the World Series when the teams met at Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn. Bill Bevens was the Yankees’ pitcher, and he pitched no-hit ball until the ninth inning. He was wild and had walked seven, so the Dodgers had gotten a run without benefit of a hit in the fifth inning and trailed 2-1 going into the last of the ninth. With two outs, Bevens walked the bases full, and Cookie Lavagetto hit a two-run double to break up the no-hitter and win the game for the Dodgers.

Despite the setback, the Yankees won the series four games to three.

Pitcher Loses Perfect Game On Blown Call

On June 2, 2010, Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers retired 26 consecutive batters. With two out in the ninth, Jason Donald hit a ground ball to second. Galarraga covered first and received the throw before the runner reached the base, but umpire Jim Joyce, viewing the play from a bad angle, ruled Donald safe. Though Joyce received justifiable criticism for his call (for which he later apologized), several others whose actions were overlooked also performed badly.

The Detroit first baseman was Miguel Cabrera. He went for the grounder, which forced Galarraga to cover first base. Had Cabrera played properly and covered the bag, his stretch to receive the throw would have made the call much easier for Joyce.

Miguel Cabrera is one of the premier hitters in baseball. He began his career as an outfielder, switched to third base, and then became a first baseman. He has never been a good fielder. The Tigers manager was Jim Leyland. Though he didn’t have a gold glove first baseman on his bench, he surely had somebody who could field better than the clumsy Cabrera.

The score keeper had it within his power to at least partially right the wrong. All he had to do was rule the play an error and Galarraga would have had a no-hitter.

But the person who performed worst in the whole matter was Commissioner Bud Selig. He could have declared the call reversed and no one would have questioned his authority. Since the call had no bearing on the outcome of the game, there was no excuse for Selig not to act. He could have corrected a grievous injustice and ushered in the instant replay era in baseball with a single ruling.

A No-Hitter Record That Will Never Be Broken

Johnny Vander Meer
Johnny Vander Meer of the Cincinnati Reds pitched two no-hitters in five days, a feat that is not likely to be repeated. Image by Wizardman.

On June 11 and June 15, 1938, Johnny Vander Meer of the Cincinnati Reds did what no other pitcher has ever done — pitched consecutive no-hitters. Since he pitched on three days rest, so that the two no-hitters were pitched within five days, the record will never even be tied because today’s pitchers get four days of rest. It is theoretically possible for someone to pitch three consecutive no-hitters, but, as we shall see, that seems very unlikely. And so Johnny Vander Meer will likely always stand alone.

What Are The Odds?

As I write this, Chris Heston is scheduled to start his first game after the no-hitter in about three hours. Will he pitch a second no-hitter today? While we’re waiting to find out, let’s do some math and figure out his chances. Since 1900 there have been 245 no-hitters. In that time, approximately 180,000 games have been played. Since each game involves two starting pitchers, the chance of a pitcher pitching a no-hitter is about one in 1,500.

Given that Heston, or any pitcher who has just pitched a no-hitter, is pitching more effectively than your average pitcher, let’s say the chances are three times better for another no-hitter. That means Heston’s chance to become the second pitcher to throw consecutive no-hitters is about one in 500.

But what is the chance that any average pitcher will toss consecutive no-hitters? The odds of a no-hitter in each individual game is one in 1,500, so the chance of two no hitters in a row is about one in a little over two million (This is obtained by multiplying 1/1,500 by 1/1,500.)

Of course we know some pitchers are better than others. Let’s calculate the odds of Sandy Koufax pithing two consecutive no-hitters (Yes, his career is over; but what were the odds when he was pitching?)

Koufax started 314 games and pitched four no-hitters — about one no-hitter in every seventy-eight starts. So his odds of pitching consecutive no-hitters was one in about six thousand. Not too good — but better than millions to one for your average starter.

And just for the fun of it, let’s calculate the odds of a pitcher as good as Sandy Koufax pitching three consecutive no-hitters. That would be 1/78 x 1/78 x 1/78, or about one in a half million. It might happen some day, but probably not soon.

And Chris Heston will definitely not pitch back-to-back no-hitters. Jake Lamb just doubled in the second inning.

Mediocre Athletes Can Do Spectacular Things

Like Don Larsen, Johnny Vander Meer was another so-so major league pitcher: His lifetime record was 119-121. But Larsen and Vander Meer will always be remembered for one or two spectacular displays of pitching skill. Sports are full of unlikely performances; it’s one of the things that fascinates fans.

© Copyright 2015 Jon Plotkin, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Sports
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