Jon Lester‘s no-hitter in 2008 was something special, for a variety of reasons. Chief among those was the fact that he was less than two years removed from being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
However, even if you removed Lester’s inspirational recovery from the storyline, that night at Fenway Park gave any fan of the game reason to smile. A no-hitter is unique in that way, for it allows drama to build in a remarkable manner — the tiring pitcher fighting tooth and nail to keep alive his pursuit of history.
Since that mid-May evening at Fenway Park in ’08, the drama has been sapped from similar efforts. The reason? They happen too darn often. No longer is the no-hitter as unique as it was just two years ago, robbing what is often a memorable event of much of its drama.
There were six no-nos thrown in 2010, including two perfect games and a seventh in the postseason, and there have already been two in 2011. The pair thrown by Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander this week was the first achieved as close as five days apart in the American League since 1923. That alone is enough to take a little shine off the achievement, but there’s more to it than that.
Pitchers are flirting with no-hitters at a remarkably high rate right now, making those like Liriano and Verlander just a few outs better than a whole rabble of others.
Consider the past six days in Major League Baseball, where the two who completed the task just outlasted seven other similar efforts.
Liriano accomplished his feat on Tuesday night in Chicago. The following evening saw Tim Hudson throw a one-hitter against Milwaukee, and a collection of Angels pitchers tossed 6 1/3 hitless innings against the Red Sox. On Friday, it was Derek Lowe getting into the seventh with a no-hitter in Philadelphia, and St. Louis’ Jaime Garcia got within four outs of the feat against Milwaukee.
Verlander’s second no-hitter the following night overshadowed eight no-hit innings by the Brewers’ Yovani Gallardo. Sunday saw Anibal Sanchez, who already lost a no-hitter in the ninth inning earlier in the year, get through six without allowing a hit against Washington. Also, San Francisco’s Ryan Vogelsong, making his third start since 2004, took his no-hit effort against Colorado into the sixth.
Flirtations with no-hitters are happening on a nightly basis. The actual feat is at just a slightly lower rate. Just cheapens the whole thing, don’t you think?
This is no knock on any pitcher who ever throws a no-hitter. One can never fault a pitcher for doing something like that. It is also not a criticism of the game. In fact, baseball’s efforts to clean up the steroid abuse and a fan-pleasing recommitment to defense are two of the factors involved. It is simply an observation that the Year of the Pitcher, and the Year of the Pitcher, Part II, has made one of the real special moments in the game a bit too commonplace.
To put it another way, it’s too much of a good thing.
The spread on the Thanksgiving table is wonderful in large part because of its rarity. Staring at the bird and all the fixin’s, you know that you are in for a treat, and you will take advantage of every opportunity to stuff yourself, in part because you may not do so again for another year. There was a time when no-hitters had the feel of something you wanted to cherish. Certainly, those who achieve them still do, but their efforts are awash in a sea of similar showings.
It will always be dramatic when a pitcher nears or accomplishes the feat. We will still stand on our feet and cheer a bit louder with every out in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. The postgame hug between pitcher and catcher remains an iconic image in a sport filled with them. Yes, we can still love the no-hitter.
Just not as much as we used to.