Ho hum: Mastery on mound continues
Five no-hitters—two of them perfect games—and another gem that was spoiled by an umpire.
By now, San Francisco Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow and others around baseball are beginning to expect a piece of pitching history every week.
“I do. I can’t explain it,” said Krukow, who pitched in the majors from 1976-89. “Amazing. I think it’s pretty cool. The Year of the Pitcher.”
Matt Garza tossed Tampa Bay’s first no-hitter Monday night in a 5-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers, becoming the fifth big leaguer to turn the trick during a season of mastery on the mound.
The last time there were five no-hitters in one year was 1991, when Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan threw one of seven in the majors. Now, arms are in charge again—so much so that no-hit alerts seem commonplace.
Ho hum, another shutout. Complete game? Yawn.
“Pitching has gotten better,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I don’t know that the hitting has gone back a bit, but the pitching has definitely gotten better.”
The numbers back him up.
Fourteen times a pitcher has carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning this year. That’s the most through July 26 since at least 1974, as far back as such records go at STATS LLC.
As a comparison, it happened six times by that date last season.
“I don’t know if there are any explanations for it,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It runs in cycles and you just go through it.”
CC Sabathia got it started with a near no-no at Tampa Bay on April 10, and the list of close calls features youngsters from Ricky Romero and Travis Wood to established stars such as John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Of course, several finished the job. Oakland left-hander Dallas Braden retired all 27 batters against Tampa Bay on May 9 and Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay duplicated the feat 20 days later at Florida, making this the only season besides 1880 to include a pair of perfect games.
Arizona’s Edwin Jackson and Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez also threw no-hitters—not to mention the perfect game Detroit right-hander Armando Galarraga was denied because of a missed call at first base by umpire Jim Joyce.
“It’s pretty unbelievable. I don’t know. It’s not an easy thing to do,” said Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz, who tossed a no-hitter in his second major league start on Sept. 1, 2007.
“I don’t remember ever hearing about it happening like this. Maybe guys are preparing a little bit better and sticking to their game plan throughout the game. It takes a lot of luck to do it. That’s one of the key things. You’ve got to have a couple of good plays in the field.”
Ted Lilly of the Chicago Cubs and Gavin Floyd of the crosstown White Sox even had dueling no-hitters going into the bottom of the seventh inning at Wrigley Field on June 13.
Tampa Bay has been involved in three no-hitters this season, shut down by Braden and Jackson before Garza’s gem Monday on a night when the Rays didn’t manage a hit themselves until Matt Joyce’s sixth-inning grand slam off Tigers starter Max Scherzer.
“Pitching is starting to take over the game and that’s good,” Florida right-hander Ricky Nolasco said. “That’s the way it should be.”
That figures, coming from a pitcher. But there are several reasons why baseball’s balance of power has swung to the guys on the mound. Among them:
n Testing for steroids and amphetamines.
n An increased emphasis on defense.
n The sport-wide spread of bat-breaking cut fastballs.
n Advances in medicine that help revive injured arms.
n Better teaching and competition at youth, college, minor league and international levels.
“These are the best pitchers in the world, and the pitchers that have thrown the no-hitters are pretty darn nasty,” Houston third baseman Chris Johnson said. “If they are on their game, it’s a battle. These guys have a chance to do it every night.”
Former big league pitcher and current Los Angeles
Angels broadcaster Mark Gubicza has a simple theory of his own.
“I think the resurgence of the power arm is why. Outside of Dallas Braden, who doesn’t have overpowering stuff but spots the ball pretty well, you can see an overwhelming majority of pitchers now that have plus fastballs in the 93-96 (mph) range and sometimes top out at 98. There are more of them that we’ve seen probably since maybe the late 60s and early 70s,” he said.
“Unless the (radar) guns aren’t right, I’ve never seen so many guys with such good fastballs. And when you have a guy who can spot a fastball, you can be very successful.”