Let’s see. Jim Maloney, who dealt his entire career with shoulder and arm miseries, suffered a muscle strain while trying to pitch a no-hitter in 1964. Then-Reds manager Fred Hutchinson, himself a former pitcher, took no chances and lifted Maloney.
Maloney had two no-hitters in his future, but he’d also leave another no-hitter-in-the-making thanks to injuring his ankle running the bases in the top of the sixth. (His career would be marked paid for all intent and purpose in 1970, as an Angel, when he severed an Achilles tendon . . . on a baserunning play.)
Sandy Koufax pitched a perfect game in 1965 with an arthritic elbow, a pre-existing condition.
Phil Hughes had a no-hitter in the works in his second major league start, in 2007, when he pulled a hamstring and had to leave after six and a third.
Johan Santana threw an insane 134 pitches in tossing the first no-hitter in Mets history in 2012, but a few starts later an ankle injury telegraphed the shoulder fatigue that finally put paid to his once-distinguished career.
Until Saturday, I knew of no pitcher who stayed in to pitch or finish a no-hitter after being injured earlier in the game. Never mind a pitcher whose season began as a certifiable disaster area, tied for the major league losses lead after losing his first seven decisions.
So Edinson Volquez rolled his ankle covering first three pitches into his Saturday start against the Diamondbacks, colliding with Rey Fuentes. He managed to stay in the game. He managed to strike out ten, get rid of the two baserunners he had to work with by getting them to hit into double plays, and struck out the side to finish the jewel.
All on a measly 98 pitches. And the ninth wasn’t exactly a cakewalk, when Volquez—the 33-year-old journeyman the Marlins brought aboard as one of the pieces they hoped (underline that) might close the void left by Jose Fernandez’s death last fall—looked to his first batter and it was Nick Ahmed, one week removed from busting up a no-hit bid by the Brewers’ Chase Anderson in the eighth.
Volquez vapourised Ahmed on a four-pitch punchout.
Next came pinch hitter Daniel Descalso, five years removed from being one of the Cardinals who burrowed back patiently against a club of overeager Nationals—holding an early 6-0 lead but playing afterward, as Descalso himself said, like they were trying to hit six-run homers every subsequent plate appearance—and since stopping in Colorado before arriving in Arizona this season.
Volquez fell behind 2-0 before wrestling back to strike Descalso out on a 2-2 fastball.
Finally came Chris Owings, another pinch hitter. Last year’s National League triples leader, owner of a fine .303/.341/.465 slash line through 55 games this year, this utility man who hasn’t really been the same since a June 2014 shoulder injury, could break up the gem with one well-placed swing.
Volquez struck him out on three pitches, the third requiring catcher J.T. Realmuto to throw to first to complete the punchout after the ball got away from him when Owings swung. The celebrating Marlins probably wanted to give him an ankle bracelet for hanging in there in the first place. The Diamondbacks probably wanted to learn more of where he found the changeups that rang up all three.
He’d probably rather have his former Royals teammate Yordano Ventura here to celebrate what would have been Ventura’s 26th birthday. And he’d probably rather have Fernandez alive and in the Marlins rotation with him. ”They’re watching right now, what happened today,” Volquez said in his postgame interview. “And they must feel really happy right now.”
It’s not the first time Volquez ever pitched with emotional pressure weighing him before he even took his first warmup pitches. He started Game One of the 2015 World Series despite the grief of his father’s death earlier in the day, turning in a stout performance as the Royals won the game late.
And he started Game Five, still grieving, unable to endure as Matt Harvey took a 2-0 masterpiece to the ninth but the wheels came off the Mets porous defense to send it to the extras in which the Royals won game, set, and rings.
But pitching a no-hitter after rolling your ankle three pitches into the game, something that isn’t always that simple to shake off? Push foot or landing foot, you risk losing your control and your ability to hit your spot if you keep pitching.
Volquez admitted that during the fourth inning he wasn’t exactly feeling a hundred percent. He may have been lucky to feel fifty percent, still. But he zipped through it with a mere eleven pitches and finished looking nothing like the journeyman who’d started the game with 31 walks in 52.2 innings.
It won’t brighten the Marlins’ postseason hopes, but for one Saturday Volquez must have made them feel like defending World Series champions.