Brandon Morrow tosses an absolute gem

Updated: August 10, 2010, 11:29 AM ET
By Jayson Stark
I once had a memorable debate with my friend Lee Sinins, inventor of the amazing Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, over this seemingly non-controversial subject:

Is a no-hitter actually a meaningful event?

You think I'm kidding, right? Ohhhh, no. This one got practically as heated as the Thrilla in Manila.

Lee argued -- and still does -- that no-hitters are a "statistically insignificant" occurrence. And I can attest to this: He seriously believes that.

I argued, on the other hand -- and still do -- that Lee needs to get out of the house more.

My reasoning on this is as basic as a full-count heater: Whether it's "statistically significant" or not, witnessing a no-hitter is one of the most powerful and dramatic experiences that baseball offers to anyone who loves it. So if the spread sheets of America aren't impressed, who the heck cares?

I'm guessing approximately 99.99998 percent of all precincts worldwide would vote with me in this debate. But every once in a while, something breaks out in this sport that revives Lee's case.

Brandon Morrow

And what happened Sunday in Toronto -- when Brandon Morrow threw one of the most dominating near-no-hitters of all time -- might be the best evidence yet that Lee Sinins could really be on to something. And I hate when that happens.

So let's take a look at the true meaning of this game, a meaning that supersedes the way-too-convenient label most people will slap on it: "Not a No-Hitter."


No matter how we break this down, a 17-strikeout one-hitter is a more astounding, and more dominating, performance than your average no-hitter. Maybe not as dramatic, but indisputably more dominating. Take a look:

• How many active pitchers have thrown a no-hitter? How 'bout 16. But how many active pitchers have thrown a 17-strikeout game? That would be exactly four -- Morrow, Johan Santana (Aug. 19, 2007), Ben Sheets (May 16, 2004) and Kerry Wood (May 6, 1998). And Morrow is only the second active pitcher -- not to mention just the fourth pitcher since 1920 -- to have authored a 17-strikeout one-hitter. (The three other men with 17-K one-hitters: Wood, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling.)

• There have been 168 no-hitters in the live-ball era. But if we use Bill James' "Game Score" as our means of measuring dominance -- and that's a stat which is only available for games back to 1920 -- just two of those no-hitters graded out as more dominating than Morrow's non-no-hitter. Morrow's game earned a 100 score. The only two 101s earned by any games in the past 90 years:

Sandy Koufax, Sept. 9, 1965 -- 14-K perfect game vs. Cubs
Nolan Ryan, May 1, 1991 -- 16-whiff no-hitter vs. Blue Jays

• Meanwhile, three other no-hitters earned a 100 Game Score -- Randy Johnson's 13-strikeout perfect game in Atlanta in 2004, Ryan's 17-strikeout no-hitter against the Tigers in 1973 and Warren Spahn's 15-punchout no-hitter against the Phillies in 1960. In other words, that means Morrow's non-no-hitter was judged more dominating than 163 of the past 168 no-hitters. Hard to argue.

• So what was the most dominating non-no-hitter? That was Wood's 20-strikeout game on May 6, 1998. That game earned an insane 105 Game Score -- the highest in any nine-inning game (no-hitter or otherwise) since 1920. But no other non-no-hitter in the past 90 years earned a higher score than Morrow's gem.

• The Rays have been no-hit three times since July 2009. They also now have been held to one hit or none five times just this season alone -- more than any team in the live-ball era, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. But if we use Game Score as the criterion, this was the most dominating game ever thrown against them in franchise history. The runner-up wasn't a no-hitter, either. It was Pedro Martinez's 13-strikeout one-hitter on Aug. 29, 2000, which got a 98 Game Score. In the history of the Rays franchise, they've played just five other games in which the opposing pitcher even earned a 90 -- three 93s (including the Mark Buehrle and Dallas Braden no-hitters), a 92 and a 90.

• Finally, let's stack up Morrow's game against the five no-hitters that have been thrown this year. Those five games might get more hoopla, but he wins the Game Score battle against every darned one of them. And just one was even close:

Incidentally, Armando Galarraga's shoulda-been-perfect game also earned an 88. So Morrow thumped him, too. And you won't be shocked to learn that 29 different pitching performances this season have been computed to have been more dominating than Jackson's messy eight-walk, six-strikeout no-hitter was. But no game since 2004 has been more dominating than this one.


And now all the 17-strikeout info you absolutely, positively need to know: