Hitters who broke up no-hitters with two outs in the ninth inning form a small but historic fraternity in baseball history.
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.
"The next day [Fassero's teammate] Pedro Martinez drilled me," Garcia said. "I think I know why."