Ervin Santana No-Hitter: The 12 Most Improbable No-Hitters in Baseball History

Charles de GrasseContributor IIIJuly 28, 2011

Ervin Santana No-Hitter: The 12 Most Improbable No-Hitters in Baseball History

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    Ervin Santana's no-hitter for the Los Angeles Angels yesterday lands in the improbable pile simply because the Angels allowed a run. Of the 230 no-hitters thrown starting in 1900, only 17 included runs scored by the team without hits.

    The last time the hitless team scored a run in a no hitter was September 8, 1993 when Darryl Kile and the Houston Astros beat the New York Mets 7-1. In the span between the Kile and Santana no-hitters, 36 garden variety no-hitters were thrown—the kind where the team without hits is without runs.

    As improbable a no-hitter as Santana's was, it is only moderately improbable compared to the following 12 games discussed here. These 12 games are some of the strangest baseball games ever played. Games distinguished by events, circumstances, and players transcending the aura surrounding other no-hitters.

12. Don Nottebart and Ken Johnson, Houston Colt .45s, 1963 and 1964

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    Right off the bat I am cheating. The first no-hitter slide covers two no-hitters. These two games need to be considered together to be appreciated.

    Don Nottebart of the Houston Colt .45s no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies on May 7, 1963. The score was 4 - 1 with Houston winning. Now remember the winner and the score.

    Ken Johnson of the Colt .45s no-hit the Cincinnati Reds and LOST 0-1 on April 23, 1964. Allowing a run and losing a no-hitter is special. Johnson's game is the one that deserves this slide.

    I include the Nottebart game because these were the only no-hitters thrown by the Houston Colt .45s before they became the Astros. Both Colt .45s' no-hitters saw the hitless team score a run. As far as my research shows me, the Colt .45s are the only team to have thrown multiple no-hitters without throwing a no-hit shutout.

    Photo Credit: Baseball-Reference

11. Virgil Trucks, Detroit Tigers, 1952

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    Virgil Trucks' no-hitter on August 25, 1952 makes this list due to the circumstances of Trucks' season. Trucks also pitched a no-hitter on May 5, 1952. Otherwise, he had a tough year.

    The Detroit Tigers won just 50 of 154 games in 1952. Trucks had a decent year by most standards, throwing 197 innings with 3.97 ERA. Yet Trucks only won five games that season. His record was 5-19.

    This no-hitter is improbable more for accounting reasons than baseball reasons. It was 20 percent of his victory total for the season and only 50 percent of his no-hitter total for the season. Those numbers are typically much further apart.

    Photo Credit: Baseball-Reference

10. Dock Ellis, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1970

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    This no-hitter's rank among the improbable depends on your subscription to legend.

    Dock Ellis pitched a no-hit game against the San Diego Padres on June 12, 1970, winning 2-0. Legend has it he was pitching under the influence of LSD. Ellis is the source of this information, clouding its veracity for obvious reasons. If true, what a way to pitch.

    Ellis wasn't sharp that game. He walked eight, stuck out six and hit a batter.

9. Fred Toney, Cincinnati Reds, 1917

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    Fred Toney threw 10 hitless innings against the Chicago Cubs, winning 1-0 on May 2, 1917. Aside from throwing 10 innings, Toney faced tough competition.

    The Cubs' starter, Hippo Vaughn, started the game with nine no-hit innings. Vaughn surrendered two hits and a run in the 10th inning, losing his no-hit bid and the game. This game is the closest any Major League players have come to a double no-hitter, in which neither side gains a hit.

    Photo Credit: Baseball-Reference

8. Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1997

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    Francisco Cordova threw nine innings on July 12, 1997 for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Houston Astros. Houston is involved again! Ricardo Rincon pitched the 10th inning. The Pirates won 3-0 on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th.

    This is the only multi-pitcher, extra-inning no-hitter.

7. Steve Barber and Stu Miller, Baltimore Orioles, 1967

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    Steve Barber and Stu Miller of the Baltimore Orioles collaborated on a no-hit performance against the Detroit Tigers on April 30, 1967. The Orioles lost 2-1.

    Like other no-hitters with runs scored by the hitless team, many walks were issued. Barber walked 10 Tigers. He also hit two of them.

    The game fell apart at the very end for the Orioles. Barber walked three batters and threw a wild pitch in the ninth inning, allowing the Tigers only runs. Miller relieved him to record the final out.

    Photo Credit: Baseball-Reference

6. Nolan Ryan, Texas Rangers, 1991

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    Nolan Ryan threw his seventh career no-hitter on May 1, 1991 against Toronto Blue Jays, winning 3-0. Ryan was 44-years-old when he pitched this game. Ryan achieved the record for oldest pitcher to throw a no-hitter with this game.

    Ryan dominated the game too. He struck out 16 batters while only walking two.

5. Ernie Shore, Boston Red Sox, 1917

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    Ernie Shore pitched all nine innings for the Red Sox against the Washington Senators on this June 23, 1917 no-hitter.

    Ernie Shore was pitching in relief.

    Babe Ruth started the game and walked the first batter. Immediately following the walk, both Ruth and his catcher, Pinch Thomas were ejected for arguing balls and strikes! In came Shore and a new catcher, Sam Agnew. Not another Senators' batter reached base in the game.

    This game is odd simply because of the ejection situation. Not many ejections happen before a single out is recorded. Replacing a whole battery on short notice and achieving a no-hitter is spectacular.

    Photo Credit: Baseball-Reference

4. Samuel "Sad Sam" Jones, New York Yankees, 1923

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    "Sad Sam" Jones and the New York Yankees no-hit the Philadelphia Athletics on September 4, 1923.

    No-hitters are dominant performances. A team that can't scratch out a hit probably has trouble making contact with the ball. The hitless team often strikes out many times.

    Jones stuck out zero batters in this game. Jones was never a strike out artist. For his career he only struck out 2.8 hitters per nine innings pitched.

    Jones' game isn't the only no-hitter without a strikeout by the hitless team. Ken Holtzman of the Chicago Cubs threw a strikeout-free no hitter in Wrigley field on August 19, 1969. Holtzman's game is storied to be “wind-aided” however.

    Photo Credit: Baseball-Reference

3. Jim Abbott, New York Yankees, 1993

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    This game along with Nolan Ryan's game are the two marked by amazingly improbable pitchers. Jim Abbott was born without a right hand. He pitched resting his glove on his right arm, transferring it to his left hand immediately following pitch delivery.

    Every game Jim Abbott pitched was improbable, thus his no-hitter is all the more so. He beat the Cleveland Indians on September 4, 1993 with his no-hit effort.

    This is the second special no-hitter to occur on September 4, exactly 70 years following the no hitter of "Sad Sam" Jones.

2. Johnny Vander Meer, Cincinnati Reds, 1938

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    Many people would put Johnny Vander Meer's second no-hitter first on this list. My desire for a surprise ending relegates Vander Meer's second no-hitter of 1938 to penultimate status.

    Vander Meer famously no-hit the Brooklyn Dodgers on June 15, 1938. In his previous start on June 11, he no-hit the Boston Braves. Vander Meer is the only Major League pitcher to throw no-hitters in consecutive starts.

    Vander Meer's consecutive no-hitter streak is widely considered the hardest record to break in professional baseball, if not all sports. You can't break a consecutive no-hitter streak by just a little bit.

    Rarely mentioned is the lighting situation in Brooklyn on that date. The night of Vander Meer's record-setting game was the first night game played at Ebbets Field. Ebbets Field was the second Major League park to install lights. The first was Crosley Field in Cincinnati—Vander Meer's home park—in 1935. 

    Photo Credit: Baseball-Reference

1. Roy Oswalt and a Cast of Thousands, Houston Astros, 2003

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    Regardless of Texas' status as the no-hitter state, Houston certainly is the capital of strange no-hitters. On June 11, 2003 the Houston Astros, lead by Roy Oswalt, no-hit the New York Yankees. This game was the first no-hitter thrown in interleague play by the visiting team and the first no-hitter thrown against the Yankees in 44 years.

    The first interleague no-hitter also involved the Yankees. David Cone of the Yankees no-hit the Montreal Expos on July 18, 1999. That game was perfect too.

    Now it gets interesting.

    Roy Oswalt only pitched two innings before leaving the game with an injury. He was replaced by Pete Munro who threw 2.2 no-hit innings. Kirk Saarloos followed, recording four outs and zero hits. Next entered Brad Lidge who threw two more no-hit innings. Octavio Dotel pitched a no-hit eighth inning. Billy Wagner pitched a no-hit ninth inning. Six pitchers, one no-hitter! Six pitchers is the record for a no-hitter.