The wait for the season's first no-hitter continues after the Tigers' Anibal Sanchez took a no-no into the ninth inning against the Twins on Friday night only to allow a single up the middle to Joe Mauer just two outs away from the second no-hitter of his career. Sanchez hung on to complete his fourth career one-hitter, but whereas there had been two no-hitters by this point in each of the last three seasons, 2013 is still waiting for its first.
A perfect game was never in play for Sanchez, who walked the first batter of the game, Twins' third baseman Jamey Carroll, on five pitches and issued another free pass to right fielder Chris Parmelee in the second inning, but he stranded both runners and retired 18 in a row after that, before walking shortstop Eduardo Escobar on four pitches in the eighth. In that streak of consecutive outs, the only really well-struck ball was a line-out to the left of shortstop Jhonny Peralta by Justin Morneau on a 1-0 count in the seventh. Mauer struck out in both of his at-bats during that stretch, both times swinging through curveballs.
Sanchez got strike one on Mauer in the ninth with a pitch on the outside corner, then tried to expand the zone and missed away. He then shook off catcher Alex Avila to get to the curveball on the 1-1 pitch, and Mauer, likely thinking along with Sanchez, went down to get the hook and lined it into center for the game's first hit. Mauer had previously broken up no-hitters by the Rangers' Rich Harden in 2010 and the White Sox's Gavin Floyd in 2008, both times doing so with one out in the ninth inning.
For Sanchez, giving up a lone hit to the active leader in career batting average might have diminished his place in history, but it did little to diminish the quality of a performance in which he struck out twelve and threw a career-high 130 pitches. Remarkably, the game was just the eighth complete game of Sanchez's major-league career, but the fifth game in which he allowed one or no hits.
His lone no-hitter came back in his rookie season of 2006 and saw him walk four against six strikeouts. But according to Game Score, all four of his one-hitters have been as good or better, and Friday night's performance was the best of his career, registering a Game Score of 94, the third best of this season.
Indeed, if last year was the Year of the No-Hitter (there were seven, tying the record set in 1990 and previously tied in 1991), thus far this has been the Year of the One-Hitter. Sanchez's was the fifth of the season, joining previous one-hitters by Jordan Zimmermann, Jon Lester, Shelby Miller, and Chris Sale, a tally which doesn't include Matt Harvey's nine-innings of one-hit ball in a game that went into the tenth.
By way of comparison, we're less than a third of the way through the season and we've already had five one-hitters (six including Harvey). None of the last three years had more than ten. However, those years all had multiple no-hitters.
Now check this out: If you add up the one-hitters and no-hitters in each season through May 24, this is what you get:
Just because we haven't seen a no-hitter yet doesn't mean pitchers are having low-hit outings any less frequently. They just keep having that one hit fall in. When writers such as myself describe no-hitters as fluky, this is what we mean. We don't mean the dominant outing was fluky. We mean avoiding that one well-placed hit, or having every single well-struck fair ball turned into an out by your fielders is fluky. Conversely, having that one hit fall in on a night when you're as locked in as Sanchez was tonight, or Yu Darvish, the only other pitcher to lose a no-hitter in the ninth inning this season, was on April 2, can be fluky, too. Sanchez may have given up a hit Friday night, but his performance wouldn't have been meaningfully better had he not.