If we were to tell you a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers threw the first no-hitter of 2014, your first guess would be Clayton Kershaw, and your second guess would be Zack Greinke. Next? Well, perhaps you would think Hyun-Jin Ryu had a particularly good day, or maybe Dan Haren.
The point is Josh Beckett is not nearly the first Dodgers’ starter you’d think of, if you thought of him at all. The 34-year-old missed most of last season due to thoracic outlet syndrome. He believed he might never pitch again, and unless you’re a particularly attentive fantasy baseball player or part of the 30 percent of Angelenos who actually receive the club’s new cable network and can watch the team on television, you might be under the impression he hasn’t pitched since.
But Beckett threw a 128-pitch masterpiece in the Dodgers’ 6-0 win over the Phillies, striking out six, walking three and, yes, allowing zero hits. It was the 21st no-hitter in Dodgers history, extending the franchise’s lead in that category by two (the Red Sox have 19).
In fact, the 2003 World Series MVP has had something of a resurgence this year – through his first eight starts he was 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA – and Sunday in Philadelphia he was even better than his numbers. For those who are really into meaningless trivia, Beckett became the first visiting pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the City of Brotherly Love since the Expos’ Bill Stoneman in 1969. Stoneman went on to become the general manager of the Dodgers' local rivals, the Angels, from 1999 to 2007.
Beckett initially seemed unlikely to pitch very far into the game at all, throwing 24 pitches in the first inning, just half of them strikes. But his command and efficiency improved from there, and he needed just 10 pitches to get out of both the seventh and eighth innings, ensuring he’d be able to last all the way through. Beckett is at least seven years removed from the days in which his fastball could touch 100 mph -- his fastball averaged 92.4 mph Sunday, according to Brooks Baseball -- but he was able to mow down the Phillies largely by using his off-speed stuff. He threw 40 curveballs and 20 changeups, and he threw them for strikes 58 percent of the time. Chase Utley was quite evidently waiting for a breaking ball on Beckett’s last pitch of the game, but instead got a heater right down the middle, which, at more than 94 mph, was Beckett’s fastest pitch of the day.
Beckett’s no-no was the Dodgers’ first since Hideo Nomo’s on Sept. 17, 1996, but it was more immediately important for them in two ways. The first: It was a win, which lifted Los Angeles' record to 27-24. The second: It confirmed the Dodgers, against all odds, have a No. 5 starter they can count on.