History was made in Philadelphia Wednesday night, where four Astros pitchers—Cristian Javier, Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly—combined for only the second no-hitter ever thrown in the World Series. It was the Astros’ second no-hitter this season, with Javier and Pressly also lending a hand in blanking the Yankees June 25th in New York. Given the stakes, playing a must-win game in enemy territory (preceded by a Phillies home-run barrage of staggering proportion just 24 hours earlier), Wednesday may have been one of the greatest postseason pitching performances we’ve ever seen, an all-time display of guts on baseball’s biggest stage. But will it be remembered that way?
No-hitters used to be a delicacy, a dish best served sparingly. But with baseball evolving faster than any of us could have imagined, a sport now played on spreadsheets with data-obsessed Ivy Leaguers increasingly influenced by algorithms and computer simulations, no-hitters, particularly of the “combined” variety, have lost their luster, occurring too regularly to be considered novel or noteworthy. With velocity at an all-time high (the number of pitchers throwing north of 100 mph with movement has never been higher), contact rates have plummeted, creating a bizarre paradox where the Phillies can be on the wrong end of two no-hitters in the same season while still being regarded as one of the better offenses in baseball.
While no-hitters have become more or less an occupational hazard in today’s feast-or-famine MLB, it’s rare for any one pitcher to go the distance, requiring bullpens, usually summoned by the fifth or sixth inning (Javier’s pitch count was at 97 when he got the hook from Dusty Baker Wednesday night), to do the heavy lifting. The resulting paradigm shift has made combined no-no’s seem almost anticlimactic by comparison, decidedly less compelling than the heroic efforts waged by Nolan Ryan and others when a no-hitter meant doing it yourself, no matter how many pitches it took to slay the dragon.
It seems unjust, bordering on cruel to be so dismissive of what should be acknowledged as a momentous accomplishment by a dominant Astros pitching staff that deserves our respect and admiration. But for fans who remember the thrill of seeing a workhorse starting pitcher (at that point running on little more than adrenaline and muscle memory) grind to 27 outs, it’s just not the same.
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