Max Scherzer vs. Justin Verlander: Which one will get to three career no-hitters first?
- The former Cy Young winners are regularly flirting with pitching another no-hitter, which would enable them to join Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan as the only modern-era pitchers with more than two.
Some day, a pitcher will join the ranks of the immortal Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Cy Young and the forgotten Larry Corcoran in the exclusive circle of pitchers to notch at least three no-hitters. Wednesday, in fact, appeared to be that day, as both the Nationals' Max Scherzer and the Tigers' Justin Verlander made valiant attempts. But infield hits ended each quest, things went downhill from there, and when the smoke cleared, they had lost their bids for glory and their teams had lost the games. History—as well as the 2017 season’s second no-hitter—will have to wait.
The 32-year-old Scherzer, who no-hit the Pirates on June 20, 2015 and then the Mets on Oct. 3 of that season, held the Marlins hitless during a matinee in Miami for 7 1/3 innings before lead-footed backup catcher A.J. Ellis lucked into an infield single that sparked the decisive rally. That night in Seattle, the 34-year-old Verlander, who no-hit the Brewers on June 12, 2007 and then the Blue Jays on May 7, 2011, was perfect for 5 1/3 inning before the Mariners' Jarrod Dyson beat out a perfect drag bunt that ignited a come-from-behind victory as well.
According to statistician Ryan Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder on Twitter), it was the 11th time each pitcher has gone at least five innings without allowing a hit; for Scherzer, all 11 have all come within the 82-start span since he signed with the Nationals in January 2015 following five seasons as Verlander's teammate in Detroit. For as impressive as those totals are, they've got nothing on Nolan Ryan, who according to Spaeder, tallied 48 such starts in his career.
Wednesday's hard-luck hurlers are among the five active players with multiple no-hitters to their name. Two of them—the unsigned Tim Lincecum and the Reds' Homer Bailey—have yet to pitch in the majors this year. Lincecum, who while with the Giants no-hit the Padres on July 13, 2013 and again on June 25, 2014, is unsigned at this writing after years of injuries and ineffectiveness; Bailey tossed a no-no against the Pirates on Sept. 28, 2012 and another against San Francisco on July 2, 2013 but has been limited to eight starts since the end of 2014 due to injury, though he's scheduled to make his 2017 debut this Saturday.
The Cubs' Jake Arrieta, who no-hit the Dodgers on Aug. 30, 2015 and the Reds on April 21, 2016, is the only other active pitcher with a pair of no-hitters. He allowed fewer hits per nine innings than any other major league pitcher in both 2015 and '16 but has been very hittable this year (78 in 77 2/3 innings), with just four hitless first innings in 14 starts. He hasn't taken a no-hitter past the second inning since April 4, Chicago's second game of the year.
For now then, the list of pitchers to have at least three no-hitters remains small, but impressive: Ryan threw an astounding seven no-hitters from 1973 to '91; Koufax pitched one in each of four straight years from 1962 to '65; Corcoran had three from 1880 to '84, though under vastly different conditions than the modern game; Young pitched three from 1897 to 1908 en route to an MLB-record 511 wins; and Feller had three from 1940 to '51, the first of which remains the game's only Opening Day no-no. All but Corcoran are in the Hall of Fame.
Scherzer, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, leads the majors in fewest hits allowed at a mere 5.3 per nine innings. On May 9, he held the Orioles hitless until Seth Smith homered with one out in the sixth. On Wednesday he retired 22 of the first 24 Miami hitters he faced, 11 via strikeouts, with Christian Yelich's first-inning walk and Derek Dietrich's second-inning hit-by pitch the only blemishes.
Clinging to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of eighth against Ellis, who entered the day hitting an anemic .196/.293/.196, Scherzer got ahead 1-2 before the Marlins' catcher hit a high chopper that he gloved but could not bring down. The ball dribbled to shortstop Trea Turner, but it was too late to beat even Ellis. Ouch.
Scherzer's troubles didn't end there. Four batters later he uncorked a wild pitch that allowed the tying run to score and then allowed a single to Giancarlo Stanton that plated what would prove to be the winning run for Miami in a 2-1 final.
Verlander's unraveling was even more dramatic. At Safeco Field, the Tigers took a 4-0 lead while he retired the first 16 Mariners he faced—10 via strikeouts—on 79 pitches. Dyson, who came in hitting just .249/.328/.362 but who rates among the game's fastest players, foiled history by perfectly placing a bunt between the mound and first base. The ball skipped under Verlander's glove and then off that of first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who tried a backhanded scoop-toss. Even had Cabrera executed perfectly, however, it would have been to no avail, as Dyson had already crossed the bag.
The bunt sparked discussion of the so-called unwritten rules in broadcast booths and on Twitter, recalling recent no-no thwarting bunts by the Indians' Francisco Lindor (Sept. 27, 2015 against the Royals' Ryan Madson), the Phillies' Domonic Brown (Sept. 15, 2014 against the Padres' Andrew Cashner), and the Red Sox's Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Sept. 1, 2012 against the Athletics' A.J. Griffin), not to mention perhaps the most famous such fly in the ointment, the Padres' Ben Davis (May 26, 2001 against the Diamondbacks' Curt Schilling, disrupting a perfect game bid in the eighth inning).
As with most of those games, Dyson's bunt came in what was still a winnable contest. Verlander, who appeared visibly disgruntled at the play (but said afterward that he had no problem with it), fell apart. Five batters later he served up a two-run double to Nelson Cruz that trimmed the score to 4-3 and left manager Brad Ausmus no choice but to pull him after 110 pitches. Seattle completed the comeback against Verlander's replacements, pulling away for a 7-4 win.
The Mariners' Mitch Haniger, whose homer tied last night's game at 4-all, broke up a combined no-hit bid by Miami in the ninth inning on April 18. The Marlins do have the only no-hitter this year, that coming on Edinson Volquez’s June 3 gem against the Diamondbacks. Arrieta spun the only one last year, but from 2010 to '15, there were 30, including seven apiece in 2012 and '15, and five in '10 and '14. With strikeouts at an all-time high (8.23 per game) and the league-wide batting average at .255—the seventh straight year it's been in the .250s—it's no stretch to imagine that we'll see more, even with scoring levels on the rise.
While Scherzer has been in top form—he owns the NL's best ERA (2.09), WAR (3.8), strikeout rate (12.1 per nine), strikeout total (145) and innings total (107 2/3)—Verlander has receded after nearly winning his second AL Cy Young Award in 2016. He's been cuffed for a 4.52 ERA while walking a career-worst 4.4 per nine, and Wednesday's outing was just his second time reaching double digits in strikeouts. That said he did find a silver lining in his outing thanks to his implementation of mechanical tweaks that kept his release point more consistent and improved both his command and deception. His 10 swings and misses on his four-seam fastball were his highest total since May 14 and tied for his second-highest total of the season.
All of which is to say that if you were going to bet on who might throw the season’s next no-hitter, don’t count out either of Wednesday’s winless wonders. They might just catch history the next time out.