Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Not-So-Brief Discussion On No-Hitters And The Mets

When R.A. Dickey gave up a second-inning double to the Braves' Freddie Freeman during today's rubber match, it marked the 7,980th consecutive game that a Mets pitcher has failed to pitch a no-hitter.  How many games have the Mets played in their half century of existence?  7,980.

Barring any rainouts or (heaven forbid) an actual no-hitter in the next 20 games, the Mets' streak will reach 8,000 games on Friday, May 11 when the team plays the Miami Marlins in their new park for the first time.  These are the same Marlins who have only been in existence since 1993, but have registered four no-hitters of their own (tossed by Al Leiter, Kevin Brown, A.J. Burnett and Anibal Sanchez).

As of this writing, there have been 272 no-hitters in major league history, with 229 of them occurring in the modern era (since the forming of the American League in 1901).  The Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers have pitched the most no-hitters in history with 20, while the Mets and San Diego Padres have yet to pitch their first.

Of course, may of those 272 hitless games took place before the Mets came into existence in 1962.  Since the Mets played the first of their 7,980 games, there have been a total of 129 no-hitters pitched in the big leagues.  Let's look at that list to see what random goodies we can find.

Tom Seaver came oh-so-close to pitching a no-hitter for the Mets on several occasions.

When the Mets came into the league in 1962, they were one of two teams to join the National League.  The Houston Colt .45s (you know them as the Astros) were also National League neophytes in 1962, but they didn't take very long to join the no-hit parade.  On May 17, 1963, Houston's Don Nottebart pitched the first no-hitter in the team's short history, holding the Philadelphia Phillies hitless (but not scoreless) in a 4-1 victory.  If you just said "Don who?" when you read the last sentence, you're probably not alone.  It was one of only 36 wins in Nottebart's nine-year career, a career in which he was used mostly as a reliever (Nottebart appeared in 296 games in the majors, of which only 89 were starts).

Although the Mets have never pitched a no-hitter, they have had three occasions in which a no-hitter was taken into the ninth inning, with Tom Seaver being on the mound for all three.  Of course, the one everyone remembers is the "imperfect game".  On July 9, 1969, Seaver was two outs away from a perfect game when the Cubs' Jimmy Qualls broke up the bid with a single.  "The Franchise" retired the next two hitters and settled for a one-hit shutout.  Seaver's mound opponent that night, Ken Holtzman, clearly learned a thing or two from watching Tom Terrific's performance.  On August 19, exactly 41 days after No. 41's near-perfecto, Holtzman pitched the first of his two career no-hitters.  You just can't make that stuff up.

Tom Seaver took two other no-hitters into the ninth inning during his tenure with the Mets.  On July 4, 1972, in the first game of an Independence Day doubleheader, Seaver once again recorded 25 outs before allowing his first hit (although this time he mixed in four walks).  But the Padres' Leron Lee broke up Seaver's no-hit bid in the ninth with a one-out single to center, just one batter before Nate Colbert ended the game by grounding into a double play.  Three years later, Seaver was once again on the precipice of baseball immortality, but this time he got a little closer.

On September 24, 1975, six years after his first date with no-hit destiny, Seaver held the Cubs hitless through eight innings.  After striking out Don Kessinger and Rick Monday to start the ninth inning, Seaver became the first Met to come within one out of a no-hitter.  There was only one problem.  He wasn't winning the game at the time.  The Mets and Cubs were locked in a scoreless battle when Joe Wallis came up to the plate with two outs in the ninth.  If Seaver had retired Wallis, he'd have pitched nine hitless innings, but would technically not have pitched a no-hitter since the game would not have ended there.  Alas, Seaver did not retire Wallis, as the Cubs' rightfielder broke up the no-hit bid with a single.  The game went into extra innings, with Seaver allowing two more hits in the tenth, before Skip Lockwood lost the game in the 11th on a single and three walks.

No other pitcher has taken a no-hitter into the ninth inning for the Mets, but Tom Glavine and John Maine came the closest to doing so, both pitching 7⅔ hitless innings in their gems in 2004 and 2007, respectively.  (Dang you, Kit Pellow and Paul Hoover, for being the no-names who broke up those no-hitters!)

Despite not having a no-hitter to their credit, the Mets have pitched 35 one-hitters, with one coming in the post-season (Bobby Jones' NLDS-clinching victory over San Francisco in 2000).  However, a number of the pitchers who participated in these one-hitters went on to pitch no-hitters elsewhere.  The first pitcher who comes to mind is Nolan Ryan, who pitched a record seven no-hitters over his career, but never threw one for the Mets.  He did pitch one of the team's 35 one-hitters, allowing only a first-inning single to the Phillies' Denny Doyle on April 18, 1970.  (Ironically, Ryan's mound opponent in the game was Jim Bunning, who pitched a perfect game against the Mets in 1964.)  Other pitchers who hurled one-hitters for the Mets and then went on to pitch a no-hitter elsewhere include Tom Seaver (June 16, 1978 for the Cincinnati Reds), Dwight Gooden (May 14, 1996 for the New York Yankees) and David Cone (July 18, 1999, also for the Yankees).

Shawn Estes (left), Tom Seaver (center) and R.A. Dickey (right) have combined to throw 20% of the Mets' 35 one-hitters.  But Estes and Dickey have a long way to go to match The Franchise in wins.

Ryan, Seaver, Gooden and Cone are the only four pitchers to throw a one-hitter for the Mets before pitching a no-hitter elsewhere.  However, they are not the only four who played for the Mets but pitched a no-hitter elsewhere.  In fact, there have been a few former Mets who pitched no-hitters after leaving New York and even more who pitched their no-hitters before joining the Mets.

Mike Scott had a lackluster career for the Mets, to say the least, going 14-27 for New York from 1979 to 1982.  But once he became a Houston Astro and learned the split-finger fastball from original Met Roger Craig, his career took off.  Four years after throwing his final pitch for the Mets, Scott threw the last pitch of the first division-clinching no-hitter in league history.  Another former Met who threw a no-hitter after leaving New York was Hideo Nomo, who pitched for the Mets in 1998 and then pitched a no-hitter for the Boston Red Sox in 2001.  Nomo also threw a no-hitter before joining the Mets, victimizing the Colorado Rockies in 1996 while a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In addition to Nomo, nine other pitchers threw no-hitters before coming to the Mets.  Those lucky nine include:

  • Don Cardwell: no-hitter in 1960 (Chicago Cubs); was a Met from 1967-1970
  • Warren Spahn: no-hitters in 1960 and 1961 (Milwaukee Braves); was a Met in 1965
  • Dean Chance: no-hitter in 1967 (Minnesota Twins); was a Met in 1970
  • Dock Ellis: no-hitter in 1970 while tripping on acid (Pittsburgh Pirates); was a Met in 1979
  • John Candelaria: no-hitter in 1976 (Pittsburgh Pirates); was a Met in 1987
  • Bret Saberhagen: no-hitter in 1991 (Kansas City Royals); was a Met from 1992-1995
  • Scott Erickson: no-hitter in 1994 (Minnesota Twins); was a Met in 2004
  • Kenny Rogers: perfect game in 1994 (California Angels); was a Met in 1999
  • Al Leiter: no-hitter in 1996 (Florida Marlins); was a Met from 1998 to 2004

Notice that of the ten total pitchers (including Nomo), only three (Cardwell, Saberhagen, Leiter) were with the Mets for more than one season.   If the Mets were hoping to get some of that no-hit magic from the other seven when they acquired them, they realized quickly that their best days were long behind them.

A no-no before New York.  A no-no after New York.  But no no-no for Nomo in New York.  No fair.

Finally, not every streak that involves a no-hit drought involves the Mets.  As mentioned earlier, almost every team has pitched at least one no-hitter and several teams have pitched more than a handful.  But the Mets aren't alone when it comes to no-hit futility.  In fact, the Mets' 50-year streak without a no-hitter isn't the longest a team has gone without one.  That "honor" belongs to the Philadelphia Phillies, who once went 58 years without a no-no.  After Johnny Lush kept the Brooklyn Superbas (that's what the Dodgers called themselves back then) hitless on May 1, 1906, no Phillies pitcher was able to match Lush's performance until Jim Bunning turned the trick with a perfect game on June 21, 1964 against the Mets.  Although Bunning's gem was the second of six no-hitters pitched against the Mets, it remains the only perfect game tossed against New York.

So there you have it, my friends.  You've just read my not-so-brief discussion on the Mets and their history (or lack of) with no-hitters.  By this time next month, the Mets might have played their 8,000th consecutive game without celebrating a no-no.  But the Mets have been known to surprise us in the past, and the possibility remains, however slim, that the streak will end before it reaches the magic 8,000-game mark.

Hey, if Don Nottebart could do it, than why can't a Met?  It's just one of those incredible things that makes baseball (and being a Mets fan) so amazin'.

Epilogue:  On April 21, 2012, just three days after this discussion was originally posted, former Met Philip Humber pitched a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox.  It was the 18th no-hitter in White Sox history and the third perfect game.  It was also the third no-hitter in the past six seasons for the Pale Hose.  Adding to the Mets connection, in each of the last two no-hitters (both of which were perfect games), a former Met was involved.  Mark Buehrle's perfect game in 2009 was caught by former Met Ramon Castro and Humber's perfect game saw Robin Ventura in the dugout as the White Sox manager.

So here's a tip to fans of no-hitters.  If you want to see one in person, find a major league matchup that features the most former Mets.  Your chances to be an eyewitness to history will increase dramatically if you do.


Anonymous said...

Go Mets! Dude, I love your blog.

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

Why thank you, o anonymous one! But I must also thank the Mets themselves, for if it was not for them providing me with the kindling, I wouldn't be able to burn up the blogosphere with these posts. Thanks again!

ali said...

We can now add Phillip Humber to this post too. It was almost prophetic!

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

I feel like Jay and Silent Bob in Dogma, what with being a prophet and all. Philip Humber is indeed now a member of the exclusive club of former Mets who pitched a no-hitter elsewhere. Of course, if he had never been traded away from the Mets, he'd probably be languishing in the minors or been used incorrectly, a la Aaron Heilman.