A Combined No-Hitter Leaves Everyone Wanting More
12:39 PM EDT on November 3, 2022
A no-hitter is a one-way ticket to immortality, particularly when it comes in the postseason. You know Don Larsen's name, rather than that of his teammates Bob Turley or Tom Sturdivant, because for a long time he held claim to the only no-hitter (and still the one perfect game!) in MLB playoff history. When Roy Halladay came within spitting distance by pitching an NLDS no-hitter, it felt like a monumental accomplishment. And though nobody should have every no-hitter ever thrown committed to memory, I feel safe in saying that you should be able to recall all that have been thrown in your lifetime for your favorite team. The point is: They're exciting, and rare, and memorable. You feel like you witnessed history.
What four Houston Astros pitchers managed to do in Game 4 of the World Series on Wednesday, on the other hand, was unsatisfying. Cristian Javier, the starter, threw six innings, struck out nine, walked two, and allowed zero hits. Bryan Abreu struck out the side in the seventh. Rafael Montero retired everyone he faced in the eighth. Ryan Pressly walked Kyle Schwarber but otherwise finished the combined no-hitter and the 5-0 victory without a hitch. All these men pitched extraordinarily well, especially given the power that the Phillies' offense displayed the night before and the stakes of potentially going down 3-1 in the series. But to call it a no-hitter, though technically true, dilutes the meaning by delivering the zeroes without the thrill.
The least consequential—but absolutely not meaningless—frustration here is just the glut of names. Even though five of the last seven MLB no-hitters have been combined efforts, signaling a fundamental (and unfun) shift in how teams use pitchers, the no-hitter has for the longest time been about one man's struggle for greatness Sandy Koufax made the no-hitter into an art. Nolan Ryan mass-produced them. Justin Verlander became the modern purveyor. Johnny Vander Meer, a fine but unmemorable player, found immortality by throwing two in consecutive starts. Dock Ellis pulled it off while blazed out of his mind. Johan Santana finally put one in the Mets' record books. Joe Musgrove did the same for the Padres. These names stand the test of time. What is there to say about Cristian Javier, Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero, and Ryan Pressly? Will they quickly blur until this game is known, much more blandly, as just "the Astros' no-hitter"?
I'm not just being a pedantic grouch. I promise! While Javier, Abreu, Montero, and Pressly (see how annoying that is?) were never pushed to go beyond what is typically asked of them—Javier didn't even have to face the dreaded third time through the order—individual no-hitters require starters to drain themselves. As Tom noted earlier today, part of the joy of watching a no-hitter is in seeing a pitcher who clearly no longer has his best stuff or any room for error but soldiers on anyway, relying on luck and wits and whatever's left in that arm to finish things out. Wednesday night offered no such struggle. The story of Game 4, to me, was not about the Astros' pitching; it was about the Phillies failing to notch a hit. It feels less an accomplishment than a bad night for an opponent. That goes firmly against the spirit of a no-hitter.
You could see it even on the field, as the Astros' subdued celebrations approached nothing resembling the iconic image of Yogi Berra leaping into Larsen's arms as their teammates mobbed the pair. Houston catcher Christian Vázquez was even asked if this counted as a no-hitter. (Vázquez probably deserves more celebration here than anyone else.) As a baseball nerd I also felt a lack somewhere deeper, to an extent that even surprised me. I watched most of Game 4 in a bar, until about the seventh inning. I was obviously aware of the no-hit bid when Javier was pitching through the fifth and sixth, but after he exited, I can't say I gave much thought to the idea that the bullpen might finish it out. I didn't care, frankly. I took the train home, passively checking the game's progress, and arrived in time to turn on my TV for the bottom of the ninth. I saw Brandon Marsh go down swinging for the first out, and then I turned it off to get ready for bed.
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