The No No-No club: Chavez joins rank of hitters who spoiled no-hit bids
Before Eric Chavez stepped up to the plate against Giants pitcher Yusmeiro Petit on Friday, only 37 batters in MLB history had ever faced a pitcher who was one out away from a perfect game. Just 14 of those 37 had gotten on base.
Unbeknownst to Chavez, one of those 14 batters was at that moment sitting in a dugout in another stadium just across San Francisco Bay. But it wasn't until Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez returned to his hotel room after his team's loss to the A's and turned on the television that he learned that membership in his small club had grown by one.
"I immediately thought back to my hit against Yu Darvish [in April]," Gonzalez said.
On April 2, in the second game of the season, the Rangers' ace retired the first 26 Houston batters he faced until Gonzalez lined a single up the middle to end Darvish's bid for perfection.
On Friday night, Chavez found out for himself.
It was in the seventh inning, with the Diamondbacks trailing San Francisco 2-0, when the reserve third baseman found out that he would be pinch-hitting for Arizona starter Patrick Corbin. Chavez, a 16-year veteran, did the math: If Petit stayed perfect, the game would come down to his at-bat.
Chavez had nearly been on the wrong end of a no-hitter once before. In 2007, the Red Sox' Curt Schilling was one out away from accomplishing the feat when Shannon Stewart, Chavez's Oakland teammate, singled to right field.
"I knew that if it came down to me I wasn't going to let it happen to my team," Chavez said.
He was right. On a 3-2 pitch from Petit, Chavez singled to rightfield.
Since baseball went to a 162-game schedule in 1961, 49 percent of pitchers (124 of 253) who have entered the ninth inning with a no-hitter have finished the job. Twenty-five pitchers have come within one out of a perfect game and 17 -- 68 percent -- have closed it out.
While the pressure is obviously on the pitcher to complete what is likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, there is also pressure on the opposing team to not let it happen. The players talk about it, blatantly ignoring the don't-mention-that-he's-throwing-a-no-hitter custom.
"Oh yeah, everyone was very conscious and aware of it," said former Twins outfielder Ken Landreaux, who ruined Angels righty Bruce Kison's potential no-hitter with a one-out, ninth inning double on April 23, 1980. "We started saying to each other, 'Man, we haven't gotten a hit yet!' It was embarrassing."
So too was the score, as Minnesota lost 17-0. Thirty-three years later, however, Landreaux was shocked to learn the game had been so lopsided. "Who'd we have pitching out there, the batter's boy?" he asked.
As a member of the Dodgers in 1981, Landreaux found out what it was like to be no-hit when the Astros' Nolan Ryan tossed his record-setting fifth career no-no. Just as he did against Kison the year before, Landreaux had a chance to spoil Ryan's effort with one out in the ninth, but he grounded out to first base.
Former journeyman infielder Aaron Miles has also known both success and failure at the plate with a no-hitter on the line. In 1997, he was playing at Class-A Quad Cities when his team was no-hit by by Angels prospect Ramon Ortiz (who this season pitched for the Blue Jays, his eighth major league team).
Miles came to the plate with two out in the ninth but struck out on a pitch in the dirt. Miles ran to first but was thrown out and watched from the first-base line as Ortiz was swarmed by his Cedar Rapids teammates.
"It was humiliating," Miles said. "They're just dog-piling this guy and jumping around and I had to walk past it ... I'll never forget it."
Nine years later, in September 2006, Miles got his revenge against Ortiz. The Nationals starter was working on a no-hitter against Miles and the Cardinals. With one out and St. Louis trailing 4-0, Miles took Ortiz's first pitch, a fastball, for strike one. On the next pitch, he swung at a hanging breaking ball and slapped it into centerfield for a single.
"It was just a little hit over the shortstop's head," Miles said. "But it was one of the biggest hits of my career."
The no-hitter was over, and -- even though they lost 4-1 -- Miles and the Cardinals were off the hook.
Sometimes hitters need a little help. On June 2, 2010, then-Tigers righty Armando Galarraga was bidding to become the third pitcher in less than a month to throw a perfect game when he faced Jason Donald, a rookie shortstop for the Indians. As the game had worn on, Donald had a feeling that the game would come down to him, and when it did, he was determined to stop Galarraga's bid for history.
"I just remember saying to myself, 'I'm going to break this thing up,' Donald, who until recently had been teammates with Galarraga on the Louisville Bats, the Reds' Triple-A affiliate. "I just kept saying that over and over."
Donald hit a chopper to first base, and though replays showed that he was clearly out, he was ruled safe by umpire Jim Joyce. The missed call instantly became one of baseball's most memorable moments, but what is often overlooked is how hard Donald ran to first base. The instant he made contact with the ball, he put his head down and sprinted. Donald, playing just his 15th game in the majors, clearly wanted the hit. And he got it.
"My whole thought was 'Beat him to the bag, beat him to the bag,'" Donald said.
Although he feels bad that Galarraga was robbed of the perfect game, Donald said he does not regret trying as hard as he could. Anything less would have lessened Galarraga's achievement.
"People have asked me, 'Why didn't you just jog down?' Donald said. "It would have been tough to live with myself. I didn't want to wonder 'What would have happened if I had run hard?'"
In 1995, when Carlos Garcia got his opportunity to break up a no-hitter, he didn't just sprint to first base -- he dove.
Like Donald, the Pirates' Garcia was batting with two outs in the ninth against an opponent, Expos southpaw Jeff Fassero, who was closing in on a no-hitter. After falling behind 0-2, Garcia decided to crowd the plate.
"I wanted to make the outside [part be] right down the middle," he said.
On the next pitch Garcia hit a hard liner off Fassero's glove. The pitcher quickly recovered, picked up the ball and fired to first, but Garcia was already laying in the dirt, safe.
"It was instinct, diving head-first," said Garcia, who now is the manager of Pittsburgh's Double-A team, the Altoona Curve. "That was my team. [Even though we were losing 10-0], I cared."
Garcia has never talked to Fassero about his hit, saying that a simple shrug the next day sufficed.
"We didn't need to say anything," Garcia said. "He looked at me and I shrugged. Body-language-wise I was saying 'Hey, that's how the game goes. You battle for your cause, and I battle for mine.'"
It's that battle that makes Wally Joyner look back so fondly on the summer of 1986.
For Joyner, ending a no-hitter is about more than just saving face for you and your teammates -- it's about proving yourself against a pitcher who is at the top of his game.
Joyner did the deed twice for the Angels that summer, breaking up a gem by the Rangers' Charlie Hough with a one-out single in June and then, in August, proving the spoiler against Walt Terrell, who was one batter away from throwing the sixth no-hitter in Tigers history.
"As bad as those games were, those at-bats were just as good as the pitcher was against us," Joyner said. "To be able to get a hit against a pitcher who is so in control is something special. ... I would rank those two hits very highly up there in my memory bank. I'm proud of them."
But not every hitter cherishes such at-bats. In fact, both Horace Clarke and Joe Mauer -- the only two batters to have broken up no-hitters in the ninth inning on three separate occasions -- downplay their individual achievements.
In 1970, only three pitchers -- Jim Rooker, Sonny Siebert and Joe Niekro -- reached the ninth inning with no-hitters. Clarke, a light-hitting Yankees second baseman, stopped all three of them. It's probably the most interesting fact about his 10-year career, yet the 73-year-old just chuckled when he was reminded of it.
"It was just an oddity in baseball -- and baseball has lots of oddities," he said from his St. Croix home. "It could have happened to anyone. I just said, 'Let's see if I can save us some embarrassment.' I don't think the Yankees offered me any more money for breaking up three no-hitters."
Mauer, who has broken up three no-nos in the past six years, is equally low-key. The Twins catcher spoiled an outing by Gavin Floyd of the White Sox in 2008, did the same in 2010 when Rich Harden, Matt Harrison, Darren O'Day and Neftali Feliz combined for a near no-hitter for Texas, and most recently broke up the effort by Detroit's Anibal Snachez on May 24.
"I'm just lucky -- or not lucky -- to be in those situations," Mauer said. "I tried to treat it like any other at-bat."
Although he says he thinks of his hit against Sanchez as just another hit, Mauer did admit that he may grow increasingly fond of those three at-bats after he retires.
"I can definitely see myself being proud [of those hits] years later," Mauer said. "To have a good at-bat in an atmosphere like that is great."
After having a few days to process his single against Petit, Chavez says he's proud of his accomplishment, but that the attention he's gotten for it has been overblown.
"You'd think that I did something unbelievable judging by the reactions I've gotten," Chavez said. "It was the biggest meaningless hit I've ever gotten. We lost the game."
Of the nine current and former players interviewed for this story, none has ever regretted robbing his opponent of the unforgettable achievement that is a no-hitter or a perfect game.
"If someone has the opportunity to throw a no-hitter you want to see it," Garcia said. "Unless it's against your team."
Of course, many of them had to pay a price of their own for the hit.
Jason Donald was booed the next day by the crowd. So too was Clarke, who had the pleasure of spoiling Siebert's no-hitter in Fenway Park.
Garcia heard boos in Montreal the next game, but he also received a punishment far more painful than just some choice words.
"The next day [Fassero's teammate] Pedro Martinez drilled me," Garcia said. "I think I know why."