With attention focused on wild-card race, wild ending to Henderson Alvarez's no-hitter
On a day when most of the attention focused on the possibility of a two- or three-way tie in the AL wild-card race, with the top seeding in the NL playoff field still up for grabs as well, the Marlins' Henderson Alvarez took advantage of a kitten-weak lineup and threw nine hitless innings against the Tigers — then needed some help to etch his name in the record books with the season's third no-hitter, in the form of a walk-off wild pitch to score the game's only run.
The 23-year-old Alvarez needed just 99 pitches to mow down 27 Tigers, with only a first-inning hit-by-pitch of Prince Fielder, a fourth-inning error by Adeny Hechavarria on a Jose Iglesias grounder and a ninth-inning walk of Andy Dirks standing between him and a perfect game. Here he is striking out Matt Tuiasosopo for the last out of the ninth inning:
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Alas, Tigers starter Justin Verlander and relievers Doug Fister and Rick Porcello — all getting what amounted to a pre-postseason tuneup — held the Marlins scoreless through eight innings on four hits and one walk themselves. If the Marlins didn't score in the ninth, Alvarez would not be officially credited with a no-hitter unless he continued doing through the end of a complete-game victory.
Fortunately for Alvarez, they did score. Facing rookie reliever Luke Putkonen, Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison connected for back-to-back one-out singles in the bottom of the ninth, and both advanced on a wild pitch. Hechavarria grounded out to shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who looked Stanton back, and then Putkonen walked Chris Coghlan to load the bases. Greg Dobbs came on to pinch hit, and Putkonen's second pitch, a low-and-inside breaking ball, squirted away from catcher Brayan Pena and rolled to the backstop, allowing Stanton to scamper home with the winning run:
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Alvarez joined Homer Bailey (July 2) and Tim Lincecum (July 13) in this year's no-hit club, a total far short of last year's seven no-hitters (three of which were perfect games) but equaling the number that occurred in 2011. On paper, Alvarez did not figure to be the type of pitcher with a shot at a no-hitter because of his minimal strikeout rate (5.0 per nine) and his heavy reliance upon his defense, since every ball in play had roughly a 29 percent chance of going for a hit (his batting average on balls in play both this season and for his career coming in was .292). He struck out four, the fewest of any pitcher in a no-hitter since Jim Abbott whiffed three Indians on September 4, 1993. Alvarez joins Chris Bosio (April 22, 1993) and Justin Verlander (May 7, 2011) His season-ending strikeout rate is the lowest of any pitcher to throw a no-hitter since Mark Buehrle (4.4 per nine) in 2009. Ironically, Buehrle was one of the five players sent by the Marlins to the Blue Jays in exchange for Alvarez last November.
What Alvarez had going for him was that with nothing at stake for Detroit with regards to playoff seeding, manager Jim Leyland took the opportunity to rest many of his regulars. Thus, the lineup Alvarez faced did not include Miguel Cabrera, Torii Hunter or — save for two plate appearances apiece — Fielder (who yielded to Tuiasosopo) or Omar Infante (who yielded to Hernan Perez). Because the game was played in a National League park, the Tigers had no DH either, so Justin Verlander, hitless in 33 career plate appearances coming into the game, had to bat instead of Victor Martinez.
Indeed, late-season no-hitters are particularly common in the annals. Of the 237 regular season ones since the start of the 1900 season, 57 of them — 24 percent — have taken place in September or October, when teams might field lineups with less experienced players as they rest regulars before the playoffs or take a look at minor-league callups. Since the Marlins joined the NL in 1993, 10 of 48 regular-season no-hitters have taken place in September. Bailey threw the first of his two no-hitters last September 28, in the Reds' 157th game of the season, though to be fair, the Pirates lineup he faced did consist mostly of regulars.
Alvarez's no-hitter is the third since the start of 1900 that was thrown on the final day of the season, following a quartet of A's pitchers (Vida Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers) against the Angels on September 28, 1975 and the Angels' Mike Witt against the Rangers on September 30, 1984; the latter was a perfect game. It it's the fifth no-hitter in Marlins history, following those of Al Leiter (May 11, 1996 against the Rockies), Kevin Brown (June 10, 1997 against the Giants), A.J. Burnett (May 12, 2001 against the Padres) and Anibal Sanchez (September 6, 2006 against the Diamondbacks).
Miami's win briefly deflected attention away from their organizational disarray; owner Jeffrey Loria, who is said to have intruded on the team's baseball decisions to an extent uncommon for most owners, fired longtime president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest and special assistant Jim Fleming on Friday. The win gave the Marlins 62 for the season against 100 losses, seven more than last year on a team that had just under half the Opening Day payroll ($50.5 million, compared to 101.6 million). Much of that drop came via the blockbuster with the Blue Jays, which sent Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto for Alvarez and six other young players. For one day at least, that deal looks particularly good for the Marlins.