Chris Heston, say hello to Christy Mathewson, Sandy Koufax and baseball immortality.
One of the alluring charms of baseball that sets it apart from other sports is that, at any moment, it connects the acclaimed and the unknown, the mighty and the meek—even if the space between them bridges more than a century of games. The top 25 scoring games in NBA history all were accomplished by future Hall of Famers. Not so in baseball, where fame bows to no hegemony, where names like Edwin Jackson, Don Larsen, Bud Smith, Rennie Stennett, Fernando Tatis, Mark Whiten and now Chris Heston remind us that many of the thousands of otherwise forgettable ballplayers can be historically great for one night.
On a perfect New York night for strolling, dreaming and gazing to the heavens, Heston no-hit the Mets at Citi Field on Tuesday, winning his 13th major league start, 5–0. He joined Mathewson (1901) and Charles Tesreau (1912) as the only Giants rookie pitchers to throw a no-hitter.
But how Heston closed out his no-hitter is the stuff of an even bigger legend, both for himself and a sixth-year major league umpire. Heston struck out three batters in the ninth inning. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Heston became the first pitcher to close out a no-no with three punchouts in the ninth since Koufax threw his fabled perfect game in 1965.
But wait: There’s more. Koufax struck out all three batters in the ninth swinging. But Heston did something we might never have seen before (Elias is still hitting the books) and perhaps never will again: He struck out the last three batters looking.
After hitting Anthony Recker with his first pitch of the ninth, Heston whiffed Danny Muno, Curtis Granderson and Ruben Tejada on third-strike calls from umpire Rob Drake. In the inning, Drake called six pitches strikes. Pitch f/x data showed that half of the six called strikes were out of the strike zone: a called third strike to Muno, a 1–0 strike call against Granderson and a 2–1 strike call against Tejada. Drake is the same umpire who, in 2012, threw out the opposing manager (Joe Maddon, then of the Rays) for arguing balls and strikes while behind the plate for a perfect game (by Seattle's Felix Hernandez).
It was a perfect storm of a ninth inning. There was Heston, playing the role of Eddie Feigner, making his pitches bob and weave with such fiendishness that he very nearly could have dispensed with the use of an outfield. (He permitted just two balls to go that far.) There were the Mets, standing bewildered as if on a subway platform, waiting for a local when only the express trains were in service. And there was Drake, inserting himself into the drama, like a Hitchcock cameo in his movies—at once trivial but unmistakable. It was the kind of night baseball does best. For a 27-year-old rookie, a former 12th-round draft pick who posted a 46–45 record in the minors, it was the kind of night that goes on forever.