Here's a fun stat for you baseball geeks out there: Half of the no-hitters ever thrown in Major League Baseball history have been thrown in 2012.
OK, fine. That's not actually true.
...But it sure seems that way.
On Friday night in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Homer Bailey held the Pirates hitless to notch the 15th no-hitter in Reds franchise history and the first since Tom Browning's perfect game in 1988.
Bailey's no-no against the Pirates is the seventh no-hitter thrown this season. According to the Associated Press, that ties the modern record that was set in 1990 and matched in 1991.
The no-hitters this year have come in all shapes and sizes, to boot. We've seen three perfect games, a combined no-hitter and the very first no-hitter in the history of the New York Mets.
But here's a fun question: Of this year's seven no-hitters, which one was the hardest to achieve?
Let's count 'em down.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
I don't know about you, but when I hear Kevin Millwood's name these days, the term "no-hitter" is the first thing I think of.
The funny part is that I'm actually being serious. Millwood pitched a no-hitter when he was with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2003, and he was the man who started for the Mariners when they pitched their combined no-no against the Los Angeles Dodgers back on June 8.
For his part, Millwood was limited to only six innings thanks to a groin injury, leaving Seattle's relievers to take it the rest of the way.
To this end, Mariners manager Eric Wedge didn't mess around. He used five relievers to cover the last three innings. Charlie Furbush got two outs, Stephen Pryor got one out, Lucas Luetge got one out, future Dodger Brandon League got two outs and Tom Wilhelmsen got the final three outs to polish the no-no off.
In all, there were three walks and nine strikeouts. Of the 114 pitches thrown by Seattle hurlers, 71 were strikes.
So why is Seattle's no-no all the way down on this list?
Well, naturally, it wasn't all that difficult as far as no-hitters go.
The fact that Wedge worked the matchups with his relievers cheapens the whole thing, in my opinion, as it means that much of Seattle's no-no had less to do with actual dominance and more to do with simple confusion.
In a normal no-hitter, hitters get to face the same pitcher three or four times without having to worry about having to adjust to a whole new arm slot and different stuff. In this case, some of the relievers Wedge used featured much nastier stuff than Mr. Millwood.
But just as important, the Dodgers weren't exactly rocking a nasty lineup that day. Dee Gordon was hitting leadoff, Elian Herrera was batting second, Juan Rivera was batting cleanup and Bobby Abreu was batting fifth.
The Dodgers went on to finish the month of June ranked dead last in the majors in runs scored, which says a lot about how powerful their offense was when the Mariners faced them.
We can do better than this...
The Angels were still under .500 when Jered Weaver took the mound for his start against the Minnesota Twins on May 2, and their lineup still featured a slumping Albert Pujols and it was sans Mike Trout.
Honestly, if a no-hitter was going to be thrown that night, it may have had a higher chance of being spun by Liam Hendriks than Jered Weaver. The Angels were having that rough of a time offensively.
But nope. Jered Weaver was the better man that night.
Like, by far.
Weaver punched out nine en route to his first career no-hitter, and the nine runs of support that the Angels gave him were way more than he needed. All nine runs were scored in the first four innings, allowing Weaver to cruise the rest of the way.
And cruise he did. Weaver threw 77 of his 121 pitches for strikes, walking only one batter in the process. He ultimately earned a game score of 95. If you're unfamiliar with the statistic, that's very, very good.
Nonetheless, Weaver is low on this list because the Twins' lineup he was facing didn't pack a ton of firepower.
Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham were all hitting well at the time, but the rest of the Twins' lineup featured some downright ugly numbers. The last five hitters in Minnesota's lineup that night all walked away from the game with an OPS under .605.
I think we can do better...
Philip Humber is living proof that sometimes really, really good things happen to really, really mediocre pitchers.
Humber entered this season with a career 4.12 ERA in parts of six seasons with the Mets, Twins, Royals and White Sox. He had a solid year with the Sox in 2011, but I doubt anybody foresaw him pitching a perfect game in the near future.
Welp, shows what we know. Humber pitched the 21st perfect game in major league history against the Mariners on April 21, striking out nine in the process. He needed only 96 pitches to finish the job, 67 of which went for strikes.
Now, a perfect game is one of those accomplishments that is never not impressive under any circumstances. There have only been 23 of them in MLB history, so it goes without saying that they're not easy to achieve.
But let's face it. Humber's was a little easier to achieve than most perfect games.
The Seattle lineup Humber was facing didn't feature a single .300 hitter. For that matter, only one guy in the starting lineup had an OPS over .700.
Justin Smoak was hitting cleanup that day, and he had an OPS under .600. Chone Figgins was hitting leadoff, and he's...well, you know.
Plus, it should be noted that the final out of Humber's perfecto was not without some controversy. He technically struck Brendan Ryan out swinging on a breaking ball in the dirt, but whether or not Ryan actually swung is very much subject to debate.
He checked his swing on the play, and home-plate umpire Brian Runge made the strike call himself rather than checking with the first-base umpire.
Had things gone a little differently, Ryan could have walked, and Humber would have ended up with a mere no-hitter.
I think we can do better...
Given the way they were going, it was probably just a matter of time before somebody no-hit the Pirates.
I just don't think any of us figured their tormentor would be a guy who came into Friday night's start with an opponents' batting average of .265 to his name. In addition, Homer Bailey had done a good job of living up to his name, as he entered his start against the Pirates on Friday with 26 homers allowed in 195 innings.
Bailey's name may as well have been "Filthy" on Friday night. He punched out 10 Pirates, and the only trouble he had to deal with was an error by Scott Rolen in the third inning and a walk to Andrew McCutchen in the seventh inning.
That's how close to perfect Bailey was. He ended up needing only 115 pitches to finish off the Pirates, and he threw 74 of those for strikes. He earned a game score of 96, which is equal to the game score Humber earned in his perfecto and one point better than the game score Weaver earned in his no-no.
The Pirates' lineup Bailey was facing wasn't exactly a replica of the 1927 Yankees, but he did have to tango with one of the game's best hitters in McCutchen three times. Though they can be streaky, Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez are not easy outs by any stretch of the imagination.
Plus, the situation he was pitching in demanded that Bailey be on top of his game. The Reds could only muster a single run of support for him, and it came in the first inning. Bailey had to make that run hold up for a full nine innings. That's no easy task anywhere, much less on the road.
Even still, I think we can do better...
The night of June 13, 2012 will forever be remembered as the night Matt Cain finally stopped being underrated. That night, everyone in the country was well aware of how awesome he was.
Cain turned in a masterful performance against the Astros, striking out 14 hitters en route to the 22nd perfect game in major league history. He threw 86 of his 125 pitches for strikes.
Cain got some help from his defense along the way. Melky Cabrera made a tough catch at the left field wall in the sixth inning, and Gregor Blanco made a tremendous diving catch in Triples Alley in the seventh inning to preserve the perfecto when it looked like it was clearly going to be lost.
The 14 punchouts Cain collected are significant because that tied him with Sandy Koufax for the most strikeouts ever recorded in a perfect game. He also recorded a game score of 101, which is just four points short Kerry Wood's MLB record game score for a nine-inning game of 105 (set in his 20-strikeout game in 1998).
But once again, you have to consider the opponent Cain was facing. He was going up against an Astros lineup that featured such fearsome sluggers as Jordan Schafer in the leadoff spot, Jed Lowrie in the No. 3 hole and J.D. Martinez in the cleanup spot.
In addition, Cain had 10 runs of support by the fifth inning. By then, he didn't have to worry about protecting a lead. He only had to worry about finishing off his perfect game.
And indeed, he wouldn't have done it without the two great plays by Cabrera and Pagan, and the play Joaquin Arias made to end the game could have gone awry as well.
I think we can do better...
Just as it was probably a matter of time before somebody no-hit the Pirates, it always was a matter of time before Felix Hernandez pitched a perfect game.
He finally did on Aug. 15 against the Rays, and man, was it one for the books.
Hernandez was absolutely filthy during his perfecto. He only needed 113 pitches to strike out a total of 12 hitters, and he did that largely thanks to the 24 swinging strikes he got throughout the course of the game.
To put that in perspective, Matt Cain and Philip Humber only got 14 swinging strikes in their perfect games. Hernandez beat them both by 10, which goes to show just how nasty his stuff was.
He was facing a pretty tough lineup too.
Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist hit three-four-five against Hernandez that day, and the three of them all entered the game with an OPS well over .800. B.J. Upton was hitting second, and he had compiled an OPS over .900 in his first 12 games in August.
To make matters even harder for Hernandez, his offense could only generate a single run of support against Jeremy Hellickson, and it came in the third inning. King Felix had to make it hold up.
Rays manager Joe Maddon didn't make it easy for him. He stalled the game for a few minutes when he burst out of the dugout to argue balls and strikes in the middle of an at-bat in the seventh inning.
After Maddon came out to argue, Hernandez struck out five of the final six hitters he faced. Like a boss.
However, I think we can do better...
Yup, the first no-hitter in New York Mets history was the hardest no-hitter of the seven to achieve this season.
Johan Santana didn't go out there on June 1 and no-hit a punchless Dodgers lineup. Nor did he have the luxury of facing a shallow Twins lineup or a laughable Astros lineup. For that matter, he would have loved to have faced the Rays lineup that King Felix got to face in his perfect game.
Shoot, anybody would have been preferable to the St. Louis Cardinals. At the time Santana faced them, they were the toughest of tough customers.
The lineup that Santana no-hit featured seven hitters in Rafael Furcal, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig (#wrench), David Freese, Yadier Molina and Matt Adams who all had an OPS over .800 at the time.
As a unit, the Cardinals were leading the National League in runs scored, and they had just wrapped up a month of May that saw them score a total of 157 runs with a collective OPS of .816. There was no question that they had the strongest lineup in the National League.
In fact, it really wasn't close.
They didn't make it easy on Santana either. He needed 134 pitches to polish off his nine innings of work, and he only threw 77 of them for strikes. The Cardinals worked him for five walks, and Santana's eight punchouts further boosted his pitch count.
But he got it done. And when he got it done, he got it done against the heart of the order. The top of the ninth inning saw Santana retire Holliday, Craig and Freese in order.
The first no-hitter in Mets history couldn't have been a harder nut to crack. Hats off.
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