Not just any no-hitter: Scherzer turns in a performance for the ages vs. Mets
Max Scherzer turned in one of the most dominant performances in major league history Saturday night against the Mets, throwing his second no-hitter of the year while striking out 17, the only baserunner in the game coming on a throwing error by Nationals third baseman Yunel Escobar. Those 17 strikeouts tie the record for the most ever in a no-hitter, set by Nolan Ryan in his second no-hitter of 1973. Scherzer’s 104 game score on the night was the second-best ever in a nine-inning game, falling one point shy of the record of compiled by Kerry Wood in his 20-strikeout game in 1998.
Among the reams of history Scherzer made Saturday night, he is just the sixth major leaguer ever to throw two no hitters in a single year, joining Johnny Vander Meer, who did it in consecutive starts in 1938, the Yankees’ Allie Reynolds in 1951, the Tigers’ Virgil Trucks in 1952, Ryan in 1973, and the Phillies’ Roy Halladay, who threw his second one in the Division Series in 2010, making Scherzer just the fifth to throw two in a single regular season. But Scherzer still belongs on a far more exclusive list than that.
Scherzer didn’t walk a batter in either of his no-hitters, the only baserunners coming on a hit-by-pitch (on June 20 against the Pirates) and Escobar’s error. Vander Meer walked 11 in his two no-hitters, and Reynolds and Ryan each walked seven in their pair of no-nos. Trucks walked one in each of his no-hitters and hit two men with pitches in the first, giving him four total baserunners combined. Only Halladay, who walked one in his postseason no-hitter and whose regular season no-no was a perfect game, allowed fewer baserunners in his two same-season no-hitters as Scherzer, and only Ryan, who struck out 29, compiled more strikeouts than Scherzer’s 27 in his two no-hitters this year.
We can put Scherzer on a few other very short lists of pitchers to have multiple outings as dominant as his two no hitters in a single season, but before we do, let’s appreciate just how dominant Scherzer was on Saturday night.
Again, we’ll start with that game score, the second-highest all-time in a nine-inning game. Remember Clayton Kershaw’s near-perfect game against the Rockies last year? Scherzer’s outing Saturday night bumped that one out of the second spot on that list, which now looks like this:
Cain and Koufax’s games were perfect. Kershaw, like Scherzer, saw his only baserunner come on an error. As a result, both men effectively retired 28 straight batters. Including Armando Galarraga’s near-perfect game in which umpire Jim Joyce clearly blew the call at first base on the 27th batter, Scherzer is just the eighth pitcher in history to face and effectively retire 28 straight batters in a single game. Here’s the full list in reverse chronological order:
|Christy Mathewson||6/13/1905||9||28||2||E8, E5 (picked off)|
As I did for Kershaw last year, if we take those eight games, the 23 perfect games in major league history and the two other starts* in which the only baserunners a pitcher allowed came on errors, we get a grand total of 33 effectively perfect outings, including Scherzer’s on Saturday night. If we then rank those by strikeouts as a percentage of the league-average strikeouts per nine innings (to put the inflated strikeout totals of the present day in proper context) we find just six games in which a pitcher threw an effectively perfect game while striking out at least twice as many batters as the league average per nine innings. Scherzer’s no-hitter Saturday ranks as fifth on that list and thus could be described as the fifth most dominant pitching performance in major league history after adjusting for current strikeout levels:
*Terry Mulholland’s 27-batter no-hitter on Aug. 15, 1990, in which an E5 was erased by a double-play, and Nap Rucker’s no-hitter on Sept. 5, 1908, which featured three errors. Unfortunately, we don’t know how many batters Rucker faced because we lack play-by-play date for the game, which is why he’s not included on the list of near-perfect games above.
In addition to that, prior to Curtis Granderson’s broken-bat pop-up to Escobar for the final out Saturday night, Scherzer had struck out nine consecutive batters, one shy of the major league record set by the Mets’ Tom Seaver in his then-record-tying 19-strikeout game on April 22, 1970. Amazingly, the Nationals, who managed just two runs against Matt Harvey and three Mets relievers, struck out more than the Mets did Saturday night, grabbing pine 18 times, with Hansel Robles and Erik Goeddel striking out the side after Harvey’s 11 Ks in six innings, with Carlos Torres adding one more in the ninth. The combined 35 strikeouts were the most ever in a nine-inning game, shattering the record of 31 set by the Rangers and Mariners on July 13, 1997 in a matchup of Bobby Witt and Randy Johnson.
Getting back to Scherzer’s multitude of dominant starts this year, he is just the fifth pitcher since 1914 (which is as far back as the game data goes) to have multiple starts in which he allowed one baserunner or less in a single season, joining Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1915, Dazzy Vance in 1925, Halladay in 2010 and Matt Cain in 2012. Halladay and Cain pitched a perfect game in the given season and thus had two starts in which they allowed a combined total of one baserunner. Vance had a no-hitter with one walk and a one-hitter with no walks in 1925. Alexander had a pair of one-hitters with no walks in 1915. Scherzer is thus the first pitcher ever to pitch two games in the same season in which he allowed neither a hit or a walk.
In the start before Scherzer’s first no-hitter, he struck out 16 while allowing just one hit and one walk for a game score of 97. His game score in his first no-hitter on June 20 of this year was 100, giving him arguably the best pair of consecutive starts in the last 100 years. Nine times this season, a pitcher has recorded a game score of 97 or better. Scherzer is responsible for three of them, a full third. No other pitcher has two.
Scherzer is just the third pitcher since 1914 to have three game scores of 97 or better in a single season, joining Walter Johnson in 1918 and Ryan in 1990. He is also just the third ever, and first since 1918, to have two game scores of 100 or better in a single season, joining Johnson in 1914 and ’18 and Russ Ford in 1914. Ford, Johnson and Ryan all needed extra-innings to compile that many elite game scores, however. Scherzer is the first pitcher on record to compile multiple game scores of 100 or better in nine-inning games in a single season and the first to compile three game scores of 97 or better in nine-inning games in a single season. Scherzer has had a few rough patches this season, but he recorded the first out of the sixth inning before allowing a hit in six of his 33 starts, including each of his last two of the season.
It’s true that the Mets, who clinched the National League East a week ago, eliminating Scherzer’s Nationals, were resting many of their regulars during Saturday night’s game, which was the nightcap of a double-header. The Mets started Michael Cuddyer over Lucas Duda at first base, Dilson Herrera over Daniel Murphy at second, Kelly Johnson over David Wright at third base, Kirk Nieuwenhuis over Yoenis Cespedes in center, and Kevin Plawecki over Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate. Still, Cespedes and Duda pinch-hit in the ninth and became Scherzer’s eighth and ninth consecutive strikeouts and 16th and 17th overall, and for the final three outs of the game, Scherzer had to face those two plus leadoff man Curtis Granderson, the Mets’ three best hitters this season by Baseball-Reference’s Offensive Wins Above Replacement.
It’s also true that, as rare and unique as Scherzer’s performance on Saturday night and combination of elite performances this season may have been, no-hitters themselves were not rare in 2015. Scherzer’s second no-hitter was the seventh of the 2015 season, tying 1990, 1991 and 2012 for the most in a single season, and was the second thrown against the NL East champion Mets at Citi Field this season, joining Chris Heston’s no-no on June 9.
Still, regardless of the batters in the lineup, Scherzer’s performance was no mere no-hitter. Plenty of pitchers have faced worse lineups over the last 140-odd years of major league baseball, and, at most, four ever turned in a performance more dominant than Scherzer’s Saturday night, making Scherzer’s Game 161 no-hitter one of the handful of most dominant performances in the history of the game.