Wednesday, August 18, 2010
By Mark Simon
Shawn Estes (left), Tom Seaver (middle), and R.A. Dickey (right) are among those in Mets history who have flirted with a no-hitter, but had to settle for the next-best thing, a one-hitter.
“A Single in First Spoils No-Hitter” read the New York Times headline on June 23, 1962, the day after Al Jackson pitched the Mets first one-hitter against the Colt 45’s (now known as the Astros), allowing nothing after Joe Amalfitano’s single in the first game of a doubleheader.
That headline writer must have known something was in the fates that deemed that we’d still be talking about how the Mets have never thrown a no-hitter, 48 years later.
R.A. Dickey, pitching tonight against the Astros, was the latest tease—throwing the Mets 35th one-hitter, a Cole Hamels single away from history, against the Phillies last Friday. Mets fans don’t have much to celebrate these days (fans of other teams have celebrated 125 no-hitters since 1962), so it seems worthwhile to enjoy what are the best of the near-bests at this time.
In our attempt to be the “Ulti’met” team historian, we’ve armed ourselves with newspaper reports and internet accounts of all 35 games, supplemented those with a few audio and video tape airings, and studied up on the subject, in an effort to offer the most comprehensive descriptions and accounts possible. Follow along carefully -- there’s a lot to detail.
First we must tell how the Mets would lose the second game of Jackson’s doubleheader, 16-3, and something would happen in that one that hasn’t happened in any game since. The baseball gods must have been laughing as Colts pitcher Jim Golden tripled twice in the rout (Golden was golden; he’d go 5-0 against the 120-loss Mets).
Since 1962 -- Pitcher multi-triple games: 1, Mets no-hitters: 0.
The no-no is still verboten in Metville to this day.
Speaking of pitcher’s hitting, four have been responsible for the only hit of a Mets one-hitter, most recently Hamels last Friday. The first of those moundsmen, Ray Sadecki would later pitch for the Mets. He’d bust Jack Hamilton’s bid with a third-inning 20-foot bunt single along the third base line, perhaps the shortest hit in all the Mets one-hitters.
Ah, the bunt hit, forbidden by the unwritten rules of some from busting no-hitters, but welcomed early in the game when the thought of a no-hitter is not on anyone’s mind, save for obsessive Mets fans like Dirk Lammers, who runs the website Nonohitters.com, which tracks Mets no-hit bids game-by game, sending alerts via Twitter when an opponent gets the first hit of the game.
Sometimes that doesn't take long. Trot Nixon of the Red Sox got a bunt hit in the first inning on July 15, 2001, the day of Bobby Valentine’s 1,000th major league managerial victory, a combined one-hitter for Glendon Rusch and Armando Benitez.
The lone hit was a push bunt between the mound and first base, one fielded by Lenny Harris, whose throw to covering second basemen Edgardo Alfonzo was late. It’s a history mystery what might have happened had Rusch fielded the ball (he said afterwards he should have), but alas this no-hit bid turned out to be the 22nd one-hitter in team annals.
“I loved Glendon because of the attitude he brought to the park,” Valentine said recently. “I wish he could have pitched for me every day. He was the perfect choice for my 1,000th win.”
Just not perfect enough for a no-hitter.
Nor was Bobby Jones one-hit shutout of the Giants in Game 4 of the 2000 NLDS. Jones’ wife Kristi told Valentine that her husband would pitch “the game of his life” that day. He did, and were it not for a fifth-inning line drive from Jeff Kent that just got over the glove of leaping third baseman Robin Ventura, it could’ve, would’ve, should’ve been a no-hitter.
“I wish Robin was 7-foot-4, so he could have caught it,” Jones said a few years later. “But he saved me many a time.”
Joe Morgan, announcing the game for ESPN said after Jones got the final out : “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game pitched this well, other than a perfect game.”
Others might beg to differ.
The Mets pitcher to come closest to a perfect game was Tom Seaver, whose bid lasted 8 1/3 innings on July 9, 1969, broken by a clean single to center from Cubs centerfielder Jimmy Qualls. When Qualls reached first base, who was there to greet him but Cubs coach Joey Amalfitano -- the same guy who had the only hit in Al Jackson's one-hitter in 1962.
Seaver would describe Qualls in his post-game press conference as “a sticky little hitter.” That also seems an apt name for David Eckstein, who had the only hit in the first of two Steve Trachsel one-hitters as a Met, this one featuring the fewest strikeouts (one) against the Angels in 2003.
Trachsel's other Mets close call was broken up by someone with the fewest career hits of anyone to have the only hit in a Mets one-hitter: Rockies starter Chun-hui Tsao (the first of two career hits) in the sixth inning of a game in 2003.
Seaver’s five one-hitters are the most in Mets history. His second was a 15-strikeout effort against the Phillies on May 15, 1970 that scores highest in Bill James Game Score metric (a 98) of any of the 198 games Seaver won as a Met.
It was the second time in a month that the Phillies fell victim to a 15 strikeout one-hitter, part of a two-year streak in which the Mets shut them out five times in a row (the 2010 squad would be envious). Nolan Ryan had the other, his best performance as a Met prior to being traded, beating future Hall of Famer (and past perfect-game vs the Mets-tosser) Jim Bunning.
It was also the second time in three days that the Mets came that close to a no-hitter. Gary Gentry pitched a one-hitter against the Cubs two days prior.
Hall of Famer Ernie Banks lined an eighth-inning single to left field, which may have been caught by left fielder Dave Marshall had wet grass not caused him to slip in his initial pursuit.
“I thought it would be caught,” Banks, who’d hit his 500th homer the day before, told the media after the game, but Marshall was only able to nick the ball with his glove before it dropped in.
THAT one was close. So was Dwight Gooden’s against the Cubs at Shea on September 7, 1984. Gooden had told Valentine, then the club’s third base coach, that he’d no-hit the Cubs someday. Had third baseman Ray Knight been able to get Keith Moreland’s slow roller in the fifth inning out of his glove, he might’ve kept Gooden’s bid intact. Instead, there was no grip, no throw, and no no-no.
The glory days passed Gooden by, but for the Mets one-hitter, the best of times were the early 1970s, with the team netting eight of the 80 thrown in the majors from 1970 to 1974, and the 2000s, in which they had at least one one-hitter from 2000 to 2008.
Seaver and Gary Gentry each tossed one against the world-champion Pirates in 1971, the latter broken up by Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente’s sixth-inning triple. Seaver would throw another vs the Padres on July 4, 1972. Leron Lee, father of Derrek, snapped that one with San Diego's only hit with one out in the ninth inning.
Seaver also had the Mets longest no-hit bid, against the Cubs in 1975 (halted by a Joe Wallis single with two outs in the ninth) but that doesn’t make the list because the game would go extra-innings and the Mets would lose 1-0, the victims of four hits and a game-ending bases-loaded walk.
The last of Seaver's Mets one-hitters came against the Cubs on April 17, 1977. In the fifth inning, Mets catcher John Stearns thought Seaver had Cubs third baseman Steve Ontiveros struck out, but umpire Andy Olsen called the pitch a ball. On 3-2, Ontiveros hit a bloop to right field, for which Ed Kranepool dove, but missed by inches.
Seaver would get his no-hitter on June 16, 1978 -- a year and a day after being traded to the Reds. And we should note that in his last appearance for the Mets, he allowed no hits -- albeit in one inning pitched on the next-to-last day of the 1983 season.
Was one of Seaver’s games the best Mets-pitched one-hitter?
The combo from John Maine (7 2/3 innings), Willie Collazo and Carlos Muniz against the Marlins on September 29, 2007 (the day before Tom Glavine gakked up the season), featured 14 strikeouts from Maine, and only a dink infield hit from Marlins catcher Paul Hoover. That one makes the most reasonable case among the most recent efforts.
Dickey's wasn't even the best this season. Jonathon Niese joined Seaver with the only one-baserunner, one-hitter earlier in the year against the Padres.
Niese and Dickey both make the list of unlikely one-hitter throwers, joining submariner Terry Leach, who threw a 10-inning one-hitter against the Phillies (ex-Mets coach Luis Aguayo had the only hit) in his second major league start on October 1, 1982, and not-so-well-liked Aaron Heilman, whose no-no attempt against the 2005 Marlins was broken up by an infield hit by current not-so-liked Met, Luis Castillo.
We break up this story on one-hitters to tell you that:
• The most Mets wins without a one-hitter: Jerry Koosman, 140
• The Mets have one-hit a soon-to-be World Series champ three times. We mentioned the two against the 1971 Pirates. The other -- a Jae Seo, David Weathers, Armando Benitez team effort against the 2003 Marlins, just before the beginning of a run in which the Marlins went 57-33 and won the wild card.
• Seven times, more than one pitcher has been required to complete a Mets one hitter. Current Mets analyst Ron Darling and Jesse Orosco paired on the first of those-- against the Pirates on April 17, 1985. The Mets enlisted the assistance of first baseman Keith Hernandez in that one-- his ninth-inning sac fly brought in the winning run.
• The Padres, who also have never thrown a no-hitter, have 24 one-hitters, including four against the Mets (one in each of four straight seasons from 1991 to 1994). The face of the Padres franchise, Tony Gwynn was the final out of a no-hitter by the Braves in 1991, but avoided any dubious distinction with a fourth-inning double, the only hit in a David Cone one-hitter for the Mets in 1988.
• This isn't the only thing the Mets haven't done. What's more likely to come first: A Mets no-hitter, or a Mets hitter homering three times in a game AT HOME? Neither has ever happened.
Seaver and Ryan are the two Mets who have pitched a one-hitter who are in the Hall of Fame, likely to be joined eventually by Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez, who gets partial credit for lasting four innings in a one-hitter against the Rockies on July 12, 2008 (four relievers finished the deal).
We’ll give an honorable mention to Shawn Estes, recently inducted into the Giants Wall of Fame. Estes threw a one-hitter for the Mets against the Brewers on April 26, 2002, beating the last Met to combine on one, Glendon Rusch, 1-0.
This bid was broken up by future ESPN baseball analyst Eric Young’s seventh-inning single. That’s not surprising given that Young hit .417 against Estes in the 36 at-bats in which they went head-to-head, though Estes got the last laugh by getting Young for the game’s final out.
Estes couldn’t win enough (his four wins as a Met are fewest among the one-hitter tossers), and the Mets don’t always win one-hitters. They’re 33-2 when they throw one, losing most recently to the Astros in 2006.
Cone and Jeff Innis lost their combined one-hitter to the Cardinals on September 14, 1991, but Cone would come back with a winning one-hitter against St. Louis in his next start (the only hit being a Felix Jose double to the warning track in left-center in the eighth inning).
“I wanted to treat these fans to something special,” Cone told reporters afterwards.
Those 1991 Mets would tease fans by throwing three one-hitters in an 11-day span near season's end (Pete Schourek had the other against the Expos, broken up by current White Sox GM Ken Williams), but couldn’t save the job of their skipper, Bud Harrelson, who would be fired a little more than a week later.
Harrelson held the Mets record for most one-hitters played in (of at least nine innings), with eight, until this year, when Jose Reyes surpassed him. Reyes also played in two rain-shortened one-hitters (by Glavine and John Maine) in 2007.
Reyes should remember the previously mentioned Trachsel one-hitter against the Angels well—it came the same day as his first big league grand slam.
That's a better memory than Mets legend Darryl Strawberry has of the one-hitter thrown against the Phillies by Sid Fernandez and Roger McDowell on May 11, 1985.
Strawberry tore ligaments in his thumb, preserving a then no-no with a third inning catch of a Juan Samuel fly ball, an injury that cost him 43 games, and may have made the difference in the Mets failing to beat out the Cardinals in the NL East race.
Strawberry came back from injury to help the Mets to the World Series title the next season. Jon Matlack came back from injury (a fractured skull suffered by being hit with a line drive) to nearly do so in 1973 (the Mets lost the World Series in seven games). But in lieu of a World Series, Matlack, who remembered throwing eight no-hitters in high school, threw one-hitters in both 1973 and 1974.
Matlack now works as the Tigers roving pitching instructor. Earlier this year, he tutored Armando Galarraga, not long before Galarraga threw his "imperfect game" against the Indians, so he can relate to what the Mets are going through in more ways than one.
"I think it's just bad luck," Matlack said, when asked for a former player's perspective on why we're celebrating Mets one-hitters instead of no-hitters. "The fates that go into it ... The baseball gods just haven't smiled on the Mets yet."