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New rules lead to no-hitter nonsense

April 27, 2021
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New rules lead to no-hitter nonsense (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

When is a no-hitter not a no-hitter?

That’s the existential question raised by Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Madison Bumgarner’s performance on April 25. In the second half of a scheduled doubleheader against Atlanta, Bumgarner pitched a complete game shutout and didn’t allow a single hit to a Braves batter.

Exciting, right? Bumgarner joins Joe Musgrove of the San Diego Padres and Carlos Rodon of the Chicago White Sox this season in pitching a complete game and shutting down the opposition without allowing a single hit.

But in the eyes of Major League Baseball, it’s not a no-hitter. Not officially.

See, MLB has had a rule in place since 1991 that states that for a no-hitter to be officially recognized, the pitcher must complete at least nine innings. Games in which the pitcher does not reach that benchmark are not counted as no-hitters in the eyes of the league. MLB’s current rules, in effect since last season, state that doubleheader games are now scheduled for seven innings. This means that Bumgarner’s gem, while a complete game, doesn’t count as an official no-hitter.

But should it?

Most of the games on baseball’s list of shortened no-hitters involve games brought to a premature end – usually due to adverse weather conditions. However, there are a couple of interesting outliers in the mix as well, including a pair that happened less than two years apart.

On July 1, 1990, Andy Hawkins of the New York Yankees pitched a complete game in which he gave up no hits. Unfortunately, a combination of an error, a stolen base, two walks and two additional errors led to a four-run eighth for the opposing White Sox. With home team Chicago leading, they didn’t bat in the ninth, leaving Hawkins to take the loss. Since he didn’t pitch nine, he doesn’t get credit for the no-no.

Next, we have Matt Young of the Boston Red Sox. On April 12, 1992, Young pitched a complete game of his own in which no hits were allowed. Unfortunately, he managed to give up a couple of runs – one in the first on a walk, two steals and an error, the other in the third courtesy of two walks, a fielder’s choice, a steal and another fielder’s choice. Those two runs proved too high a margin for the visiting Sox; host Cleveland was up 2-1 after the top of the ninth, and so didn’t bat. Again – no nine, no no-hitter.

Leaving aside whether it makes sense for these games not to count as official no-hitters (narrator voice: it doesn’t), the argument can be made that Bumgarner’s situation is different.

Simply put, Bumgarner completed the game as the rules allowed him to. Is a seven-inning start the same as a nine-inning start? It is not. But if we’re going to treat these truncated doubleheader affairs as official games, with pitchers getting credit for complete games and shutouts and the like, why is it any different for a no-hitter?

Obviously, we can’t know what would have happened if Bumgarner had another two innings to pitch. He might well have given up a hit – preventing big league batters from doing so is hard. But it is thanks to MLB’s own rule changes that we never got the chance to find out. As such, is it right to deny Bumgarner recognition for his feat?

I say no.

Granted, I’m one to argue that the games thrown by Hawkins and Young should count as well, but that’s a fight that has long since been lost. But again – Bumgarner’s case is different. Within the scope of the game’s rules as they stood, he pitched a complete game, one in which no opposing batter recorded a hit. To my mind, that’s a no-hitter, full stop.

It will be interesting to see what other pitching feats the 2021 season will have in store. We’ve already gotten three no-hitters in just the season’s opening weeks (and yes, it is officially two, but I’m saying three and it is a hill upon which I am prepared to die). The most we’ve ever seen in a season is seven, which has happened three times previously (in 1990, 1991 and 2012); not even a month into the season and we’re almost halfway there. Of course, there’s no predicting a no-hitter, but in an era of steadily increasing strikeouts and fewer balls in play than ever before, it sure seems as though the stage is set for an explosion of no-nos.

And if a couple of them happen to be seven-inning jobs, well … so be it. No hits is no hits.

Last modified on Tuesday, 27 April 2021 07:01

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