My Pair of Pennies on Combined "No-Hitters"
by Tamar Chalker
November 8, 2022
I will admit - I paid virtually no attention to the World Series this year. Like many Yankees fans I have no love for the Astros, and I am ambivalent at best about the Phillies. The only time my ears perked up during the Series was when I heard the Astros had pitched a no-hitter. A no-hitter in a World Series game has only happened once and it was over 60 years ago, so I couldn't ignore such a historically important moment.
So, for the first time since the Yankees' season ended, I delved back into baseball. I don't know if you all noticed this, but just about every headline boasted about the Astros making history while either completely ignoring or sidestepping that it was a combined no-hitter. Now, I have made it clear I think people make far too big of a deal out of combined no-hitters, but I'd still be willing to acknowledge the accomplishment if the starter went 7 or 8 innings and then one other pitcher closed out the game. I can tip my hat to that.
Then I saw that it wasn't two pitchers or even three that were needed to get the Astros' no-hitter nailed down. No, it took four pitchers. Cristian Javier pitched a stellar game - and none of this is meant to take away from his performance - but he lasted just six innings, taking 97 pitches to do so. He clearly could not have lasted the whole game and I also think leaving him in there just because he had a no-hitter going would have been a bad decision for many reasons.
The next three pitchers each pitched one inning to close out the no-no, and once again, I'm not trying to take away from their performances. They each did what they should do and deserve credit for it. What I take issue with is the way people in the media, on Twitter, Facebook, etc., acted as if this no-hitter deserves the same excitement and adulation that Don Larsen's perfect game does. It absolutely does not. In fact, I would suggest it barely registers as belonging in the same conversation as Larsen's gem.
Larsen didn't just pitch the only no-hitter in World Series history, but he pitched a perfect game. Every batter he faced was sent back to the bench and he did this with 97 pitches. The same amount Javier needed for six innings. Not only did Larsen throw a perfect game, but he did it against a Dodgers lineup featuring baseball legends Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, and Jackie Robinson. The 2022 Phillies had Bryce Harper. Overall, their lineup wasn't nearly as dominant as that 1956 Dodger team.
I've said this a few times, and I continue to stand by it, but when I hear about a "combined no-hitter" I don't tend to think of it as a pitching accomplishment, but an offensive failure. At best, a combined no-hitter tells me that the pitchers were throwing good stuff, but not enough to last the whole game or that the manager saw a winning strategy and went for it. I can't argue with that. You do what you need to in order to win, especially in the playoffs, but can we stop acting like a combined no-hitter is on the same plane as an actual no-hitter?
For comparison's sake (and it's by no means a perfect one), a batter hitting for the cycle is about as rare as a no-hitter. But what if Judge has hit a homer, double, and single and Gleyber Torres gets a triple? Are we going to start celebrating combined cycles? NO, OF COURSE NOT. That would be absurd.
Yet, I would posit that you could argue a combined cycle is more impressive than a combined no-hitter. The pitchers hold a big advantage in a combined no-hitter that I think just gets ignored. When you pull a pitcher before the other team has a chance to get to him and replace him with a fresh arm, they should be able to continue to shut down the offense.
Five of the last seven no-hitters have been "combined no-hitters" and these are occurring more and more regularly. It makes sense with the way the game has changed. I don't expect it to go away any time soon given the way teams approach pitching today.
Also, I think it's worth noting that since David Wells' perfect game in 1998, there have been 11 combined no-hitters thrown in the MLB. Four of those games (slightly more than a third), including a game some of you may remember from June 2003, were pitched by Houston. That 2003 game is admittedly a big part of why combined no-hitters leave a bad taste in my mouth. In that game, the Astros used six pitchers to no-hit the Yankees, with only two pitchers throwing at least two innings (Brad Lidge threw two and Pete Munro threw 2.2). Once again, people celebrated this achievement as if it was some monumental feat. Really, Houston found another way to win - and that's all well and good, but let's stop pretending like it deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as actual single-pitcher, no-hitters.
Anyway, that's my two cents - what do you all think? I'm fully expecting some push back on this, so let's hear what you have to say!