What do you think of when you hear the term “no-hitter?” One amazing pitcher goes nine innings, and then the team gets to celebrate? Well, on Saturday night in Tampa, the Rays defied both expectations. In a game against the Red Sox, that infamous Cerberus of a Rays relief staff almost managed to patch together the largest combined no-hitter in Major League history—only to lose their bid in extras, as a prelude to a Kevin Kiermaier walk-off home run.
Like several other Rays games already this season—they really only have like three legit healthy starters at the moment—the strategy from the start was to get guys out with short bursts from a multitude of arms. J.P. Feyereisen opened with two perfect innings, then exited without anyone really considering what would come next. Javy Guerra got two guys out, then walked one and saw another reach base on an error. Jeffrey Springs took his place on the mound for two no-hit innings dotted by two walks. Jason Adam finished out the fifth and carried the no-hitter through the sixth. (I promise these are all real pitchers and I’m not just slipping random names in here.) Ryan Thompson had a flawless seventh. Andrew Kittredge did the same in the eighth and stayed on for the ninth.
Meanwhile, the Rays hitters could scarcely do any more to solve the Red Sox pitchers, putting just a small handful of runners on base while failing to get anyone around to home. The score remained 0-0, and while the no-hitter was still intact, the way it developed was so disorienting that even the guys on the field couldn’t quite keep track of what was happening.
“I honestly looked up there to see how many hits we got, because I knew we didn’t have that many. And then I realized they didn’t have any either,” Rays third baseman Taylor Walls said after the game. “And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, it’s the eighth inning and we’ve got one hit combined.'”
Kittredge finished off all the work that would be needed for a typical no-no, inducing outs 25, 26 and 27 without surrendering a hit. But there were no congratulations to be had just yet, and after Randy Arozarena hit into a double play in the bottom of the ninth, the Rays had to take a shot at just the fifth ten-inning no-hitter since 1901, and the first since Francisco Córdova and Ricardo Rincón combined for one for the Pirates in 1997. Even more unprecedented was the fact that, when Matt Wisler entered in extras, he was the Rays’ seventh pitcher of the ballgame. The previous record for busiest no-hitter was set by the Astros in 2003 and tied by the Mariners in 2012. Both of them only used six arms.
But the writers of the record books needn’t have worried about adjusting their column sizes. Bobby Dalbec, the first batter of the tenth, placed an opposite field hit just out of reach of Brett Phillips in the corner, breaking through the deadlock with an RBI triple before scoring on a sacrifice fly.
Despite the missed history, the Rays would still take some enjoyable memories from this game. Two strikeouts to begin the tenth put them in a tough spot, but after Trevor Story botched the would-be game-ending groundout, Kevin Kiermaier stepped into the box with a chance to steal back the win. The Rays’ most consistent presence over the last ten years had never hit a walk-off dinger in his career, but he changed that when on a 3-1 count he got a fastball right in his wheelhouse, which Kiermaier sent on a climactic trip over the right field wall.
“I’ve had that dream forever, and it’s a moment no one can ever take away from me, and I’m so proud,” Kiermaier said after. “I said before my career’s over I want to win a World Series and, No. 2 behind that, I want to hit a walk-off [homer]. I want to know what this moment’s like. I now know it.”
The final box score in this one, thanks to the bonus-time shenanigans, almost looks charmingly normal, to the point that it can be easy to forget how close we came to the most warped, bizarre no-hitter in history—something barely recognizable compared to the standardized solo greatness that word usually connotes. Can what the Rays almost did even be considered a real no-hitter? Bobby Dalbec stopped that debate in its tracks, but with the increasing evolution of the pitcher’s role in the modern game, it feels like it’s only a matter of time until someone does what Tampa couldn’t. Seven pitchers? Eight pitchers? Maybe there will even come a day when a no-hitter is widely considered a team achievement as much as an individual one.