When Lucas Giolito’s Tuesday night no-hitter is remembered twenty years from now, and the coronavirus world tour has long been a not-so-pleasant memory, bank on one thing. Ten times the capacity of Guaranteed Rate Field will solemnly swear that their cardboard cutouts were at the game.
Much remarked for coming from a high school baseball team where his pitching teammates included Max Fried and Jack Flaherty, the Chicago White Sox righthander nailed thirteen strikeouts, walked a measly one, and threw 20 first-pitch strikes out of 28 batters faced.
Yes, it was the first no-hitter of the pandemic-truncated season other wise known as The Inner Sanctum of the Outer Limits of The Twilight Zone. And, it still counts as a bona-fide no-hitter now and for all time. But you’ll forgive me, I hope, if I’m not exactly in the mood to blast fireworks over it for ten good reasons.
The ten reasons are the number of Pittsburgh Pirates Giolito faced Tuesday night. They weren’t exactly the Big Red Machine, the Swingin’ A’s, the Pittsburgh Lumber Company, or this year’s Dodgers (who have yet to be nicknamed) Giolito had to face for the nineteenth no-hitter in White Sox pitching history.
They may not have even been the 1962 Mets, and these Pirates wouldn’t exactly go over big at the Hungry I or the Improv. Those Mets had Who the Hell’s on First, What the Hell’s on Second, You Don’t Want to Know at Third, and You Don’t Even Want To Think About It’s at shortstop. These Pirates barely fielded a cast of The Real Househusbands of Allegheny County. (That’s a joke, son. I think.)
These Pirates could accuse Giolito plausibly of bullying them. On Tuesday night, their lineup included nobody with an on-base percentage higher than .295. They have one .406 slugger (shortstop Erik Gonzalez, batting leadoff) and he has a .271 OBP. The collective OBP of Tuesday night’s Pirates was .234—fifty points lower than the 1965 Mets. (In due course you’ll see why I now mention that edition and not the 1962 comic opera—who actually had a team .329 OBP among non-pitchers.)
Come to think of it, said .406 slugger was the night’s only Pirates baserunner, reaching on a four-pitch walk to open the top of the fourth, right after James McCann’s sacrifice fly provided what proved the final 4-0 score. His reward for that walk was a first-pitch pop out behind the infield, a four-pitch strikeout, and an 0-2 line out to third base.
These Pirates strike fear in the hearts of nobody except their own fans watching on television and the cardboard cutouts that bother showing up this year. And maybe their own manager. What should have been shocking would have been if Giolito didn’t no-hit them.
“2020 has been a very strange year,” Giolito told reporters after the game from behind his mark. “Obviously a lot of weird stuff going on with COVID and the state of the world, so may as well throw this in the mix.” It’s baseball’s first-ever no-hit, no-run, no-fans-in-the-stands game.
“After the seventh, six more outs, looking at who I was facing, became very, very, very possible, and then we were able to get it done,” Giolito said. “Just staying with the same, like, mental routine for every single pitch. One pitch at a time. Full focus, full execution, straight through the target.”
It couldn’t have hurt that these Pirate targets were big enough that Dr. Anthony Fauci could have no-hit them if he’d thrown from halfway between the pitching rubber and the front of the plate.
For the longest time I thought the no-hitter Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jim Maloney threw at the Chicago Cubs one fine afternoon in Wrigley Field in 1965 was the single most ridiculous no-no I’d ever see or know. And that was a little more than half a month before Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax made those Cubs prove that practise makes perfect.
Until shoulder issues kicked into overdrive for him, Maloney might have been a genuinely great pitcher—but on 19 August 1965, Maloney did everything in his power to give the Cubs a break (those Cubs’ OBP, non-pitchers: .318)—and his Reds did everything in their power to get Cubs pitcher Larry Jackson on and off the hook.
Maloney’s good news: He struck out twelve in ten innings. His bad news: He walked ten. Jackson scattered nine Reds hits but a) only one of the nine came with a baserunner aboard (Vada Pinson, in the top of the ninth); and, b) the only one that mattered was Leo Cardenas hitting one into the left field bleachers with one out in the top of the tenth.
Then Maloney opened the bottom by walking Doug Clemens before getting rid of two Hall of Famers, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks, on a fly out to left and an Area Code 6-4-3. At least that time Maloney nailed the extra-inning no-no. Two months earlier, he lost one to the Mets when Johnny Lewis opened the top of the eleventh with a shot over the center field wall, and Mets reliever Larry Bernearth held fort in the bottom for the 1-0 Mets win.
Giolito is a pitcher who went from nothing special (5.68 fielding-independent pitching in his first three major league seasons) to a very good pitcher (3.29 FIP since last season opened) with outsize potential if he stays healthy. Unlike Maloney against the ’65 Cubs, Giolito wasn’t his own worst enemy Tuesday night, and he faced an aggregation who made those Cubs and the same season’s Mets resemble Murderer’s Row.
During the second inning, the power in Guaranteed Rate Field went out for a moment, a very brief moment. The power of the Pirates was already out to stay.