Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning you’ll get a fresh, topical column to start your day from one of SI.com’s MLB writers.
Heading into Wednesday’s start, it had been two years, nine months and 15 days since Corey Kluber’s last career shutout. In the time between, the man who once topped 200 innings for five straight years pitched just 26 times over three seasons, fighting through injuries and ineffectiveness to desperately rediscover the form that once made him so dominant.
Against the Rangers at Globe Life Field, "Klubot" validated his comeback by reaching heights he hadn't even breached during his two Cy Young campaigns.
Kluber struck out nine batters and needed 101 pitches in throwing the 12th no-hitter in Yankees history, completing a return to his old self that had been years in the making and had really taken hold in the past few weeks. Kluber is 4–0 in his last five starts, with a 1.78 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings, giving the Yankees a second ace behind Gerrit Cole to form one of the best one-two punches in the American League.
Beyond Kluber’s resurgence, Wednesday’s no-hitter simultaneously felt significant and mundane, and for the same reason: There have been so many darn no-hitters! Kluber’s was the sixth no-hitter of the season—not counting Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning edition—and second in less than 24 hours. Three teams—the Rangers, Mariners and Cleveland—have been no-hit twice this season, which is an incredible sentence to type in mid-May (or any time, really). The conditions for throwing a no-hitter have never been more optimal, but it’s safe to say this is getting to be a bit much.
There are just 11 games on the schedule for Thursday. Only nine of them are slated for nine innings, hurting the chances this streak will live to see its third day. But given what we’ve seen so far, it’s best to be on high alert, just in case.
The Rockies lost to the Padres, 3–0, on Wednesday, running their current losing streak to five games. That Colorado lost is not exactly headline-worthy. The team has the worst winning percentage in the league—decimal points lower than the Twins—and has had three streaks of at least five losses through its first 44 games.
It’s difficult to fully appreciate how weighty sustained failure of this magnitude can be without experiencing it day in, day out. In the absence of that experience, we turn to Wednesday’s play of the game, which we will dub the Blackmon Blunder.
Jake Cronenworth gets credit here for an inside-the-park home run, as he should, but it’s Charlie Blackmon’s performance that deserves further examination for perfectly embodying the state of the 2021 Rockies.
As has become something of a custom with notable inside-the-park home runs, here’s a full breakdown of what transpired.
Let’s begin after the ball gets put in play. The crowd, play-by-play announcer and Blackmon all think this ball will clear the fence. Blackmon eases up as he gets to the wall and makes no attempt to play the ricochet, which triggers the misadventures to follow. Here’s Blackmon as the ball hits the wall.
Once the ball starts rolling back toward the infield, the track meet is on. Cronenworth digs around second while Blackmon takes off on something, shall we say, less than a 100% sprint to retrieve the baseball. Still photos can’t quite capture effort, but if I told you this image was of Blackmon retrieving a foul ball, would you believe it?
As Blackmon finally gets there, Cronenworth gets to third base looking very much content to settle for a triple—note his angle approaching the bag and how he starts pulling off the throttle.
Here is where the play reaches its nadir. By the time Blackmon wrangles the ball, he’s in very shallow right field and sees Cronenworth has decided to go for it. He takes a healthy-sized crow hop into his throw …
… which bounces well short of the pitcher’s mound, several feet offline from home plate.
The poor throw seals the fate of all those involved in this circus act of a play, which unsurprisingly produced some quality reactions. First there’s Cronenworth, whose expression is a mixture of excitement and disbelief:
Rockies pitcher Chi Chi González looks like he’s not having the best time at the moment:
This fan, meanwhile, is having a ball rejoicing at her enemy’s misfortune and woe:
And finally there’s Blackmon, who’s stuck in a thousand-yard stare like a man that’s resigned himself to a situation with little signs of improvement:
This is what we call Resting Richie Tenenbaum Face, and it’s a wonder he didn’t take off his shoes, and one of his socks.
Rockies fans likely braced themselves for a long spring and summer after Nolan Arenado was traded in February, so maybe this play didn’t have as much sting to it as it would have otherwise. With 118 games left on the slate, though, it’s hard to offer much in the way of solace for the road ahead.
The Blackmon Blunder might not end up being the low point of what has the look of a lowly season. But for now, it’s safely the leader in the clubhouse.
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