In this baseball season bulging with strikeouts, walks and home runs, no-hitters have suddenly emerged as almost routine instead of exceptional.
In the first six weeks, there have been four no-hitters Joe Musgrove, Carlos Rodon, John Means and Wade Miley. You can add a fifth if you accept Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning effort, a complete game in New Age Baseball’s doubleheader definition, but not a no-hitter if you prefer traditional nine-inning games like the ones thrown by Musgrove, Rodon and Means.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the traditional no-hitters was the one turned in by Means, ace of the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles pitching staff. It was the first complete game of his career, 113 pitches for the Orioles’ first nine-inning no-hitter since Jim Palmer did it on Aug. 13, 1969.
Means was an 11th round draft choice in 2014 with modest success after reaching Baltimore’s opening day roster five years later. He had started 44 games in his career and never gone beyond seven innings, and never allowed fewer than three hits in a game. This time, though, he struck out 12 Seattle batters and 11 of them went down quietly. The other, Sam Haggerty, struck out in the third inning.
Strike three to Haggerty was a wild pitch that got past Orioles catcher Pedro Severino. Haggerty raced to first base without a throw. Moments later, he tried to steal and Severino threw him out.
That meant that Means faced just 27 batters – ordinarily a perfect game. But the wild pitch, third strike meant Seattle had a runner and that meant this would not be a perfect game. Never before had a strikeout/wild pitch/out stealing runner deprived a pitcher who faced the minimum 27 batters of a perfect game.
The episode brought to mind a similar episode involving Babe Ruth when he pitched for the Boston Red Sox. Ruth had a bit of a temper and it was on display in a June, 1917 game against Washington when umpire Brick Owens called four straight balls to leadoff batter Ray Morgan. Ruth became increasingly agitated about each call and eventually confronted Owens, and swung at the umpire.
Naturally, the Babe was ejected from the game and Ernie Shore relieved him. Almost immediately, Morgan was thrown out stealing and Shore retired the next 26 batters, completing the no-hitter. The Senators sent 27 batters up and 27 went down but it was not perfect. Just like John Means’ first complete game more than a century later.