Sixty years separate Angel no-hit rookies

Reid Detmers

Reid Detmers pumps a fist after finishing his no-hitter Tuesday night.

Justin Verlander is a 39-year-old Hall of Famer in waiting by general consensus, but he merely flirted with a fourth career no-hitter in his 460th major league start Tuesday night. Reid Detmers is a 22-year-old rookie who landed his first and his Angels’ twelfth no-hitter later in the evening during his eleventh career major league start.

The Illinois lad who’s a product of the University of Louisville isn’t Verlander’s kind of strikeout machine. But on a night when Verlander’s flirtation featured five strikeouts but was ruined by Gio Urshela’s one-out base hit, Detmers struck out a measly two taking it all the way to Yandy Diaz’s game-ending ground out to shortstop.

Verlander got help enough from his Astro friends hanging five runs on the board against the Twins before his evening ended after eight. Detmers got almost as much help from his Angel friends against the Rays as Taylor Cole and Felix Pena got almost three years ago when they combined for a no-hitter against the Mariners.

As if a good luck charm, Angels pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani was presented his hardware from 2021 before the game (including his Most Valuable Player award), and on Shohei Ohtani Bobblehead Night in the bargain. (He pitched in at the plate with a 2-for-5 night while he was at it.)

Then, the Angels blew the Rays out 12-0 Tuesday night while Detmers put his defense to the bulk of the work keeping the Rays hitless. Before the Angels’ first home game following pitcher Tyler Skaggs’s tragic death, they commemorated Skaggs’s memory. Then Cole and Pena enjoyed working in the warm jacuzzi of a 13-0 blowout at the Mariners’ expense.

In that game, Mike Trout merely opened the proceedings with a hefty two-run homer in the bottom of the first before going forth to account for almost half the Angels’ scoring on that night. Come Tuesday night, the future Hall of Famer smashed a pair of homers in the second and the eighth, and yanked himself back into the major league slugging, OPS, OPS+, and total bases leads.

While the Rays had nothing much to say against Detmers’s array of off-speed services, the Angels scored two in the first (a run-scoring ground out, an RBI single), then three in the second. (RBI double, sacrifice fly, and Trout’s first bomb.) Their abuse of Rays starter Corey Kluber continued in the third when Chad Wallach hit a three-run bomb into the bullpens in left.

And all stayed mostly quiet except for a few defensive gems that saved Detmers along the way, until Trout checked in with one out and Andrew Velasquez aboard off a leadoff single, squared up Rays reliever Brett Phillips’s first service, and drove it well over the center field fence. Ohtani followed immediately with a double down the rear of the right field line, before Anthony Rendon—often injured, but still a force when healthy—sent a 1-0 pitch into the same neighbourhood to where Trout’s smash traveled.

Oops. Did I mention Phillips is normally a Rays outfielder—and the man whose base hit set up the insane game-winning runs on a pair of Dodger errors in Game Four of the 2020 World Series—who was sent to the mound to take one for the team in that inning?

Kluber’s evening ended after three full. Sad. Especially since he threw a no-hitter of his own almost a year ago. The Rays sent four bona-fide relievers out to keep the Angels scoreless over four more innings’ work before manager Kevin Cash decided his bullpen needed a break with only an eight-run deficit. Apparently, Cash didn’t think his hitters could stage a Metsian eight-run comeback at the eleventh hour.

So with Trout due up as the third hitter of the inning, and Ohtani and Rendon right behind him in the Angel order, Cash chose Phillips to be the sacrificial lamb. Maybe Cash figured that, on a night a rookie lefthander kept his batters befuddled enough, the better part of valour might have been to bite the bullets. It turned out to be hard swallows upon two howitzer shells.

Detmers took the third-highest career ERA into a no-hitter since they started keeping earned runs as an official statistic in 2013, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. If the lefthander’s as decent a young man as he’s been portrayed, he’ll make damn sure to let it be known that his teammates did far more to achieve the no-hitter than he actually did.

A no-hitter with only two pitching strikeouts doesn’t look that dazzling in the box scores. And as it turned out Detmers got a lot of help from his friends on both sides—eighteen hits at the plate, then fourteen fly outs and eleven ground outs including the one that some cynics are going to say was a seventh-inning gift handed the rook on a plate.

Before Phillips went to the mound to serve those eighth-inning Angel gifts, he grounded one to the right side of Angels first baseman Jared Walsh who played him back and well enough off the line. Walsh reached for the ball on the move, seemed to have it, then it fell out of his mitt. Walsh overstepped the ball still moving right before he grabbed it and, with Detmers hustling to cover the pad, saw he had no chance to get the swift Phillips.

Everyone in Angel Stadium expected the tough enough play to be ruled an infield hit. Walsh admitted post-game he prayed for the ruling otherwise. “I literally knew. Everybody knew,” he told reporters. “I was just like, ‘Hell yeah, give me that error baby’.” Which is exactly what official scorer Mel Franks did.

Detmers did keep the Rays out of their comfort zone with his repertoire of off-speed breaking balls and expecially his well-regarded changeup, which he threw a career-high 24 times Tuesday night. But he threw 25 things the Rays hit that managed to find Angel gloves. He got eleven ground outs and fourteen fly outs. Giving Detmers exactly seven percent of the direct responsibility for the Rays going hitless Tuesday night. Well.

Bo Belinsky

Bo Belinsky—sixty years and five days earlier, he was an Angel rookie pitching the franchise’s first no-hitter.

Five out of 57 no-hitters prior to Detmers included the pitcher in question striking out five or less. The last one to do it with two strikeouts was Francisco Liriano in 2011. And there’s at least one perfect game on record with the pitcher striking out only two—David Palmer (Montreal Expos) in 1984.

Detmers can say at least that he did a little to help his own no-hit cause Tuesday night. He didn’t make his teammates do all the work getting all the outs the way Earl Hamilton (1912), Sam Jones (1923), and Ken Holtzman (1969) did. And he pitched his no-no sixty years plus six days after the first no-no in Angels history, Bo Belinsky’s notorious no-no against the Orioles in 1962.

That lefthander’s game was a nine-strikeout, four-walk affair that left him with a season-opening 1.53 ERA over his first four starts—and 33 percent direct responsibility for his gem. Except for a 1964 to come in which he had a 2.86 ERA, before an overnight brawl with Los Angeles sportswriter Braven Dyer (who triggered it with a drunken verbal assault at the pitcher’s hotel room in Washington) ended his Angels days, Belinsky would never again pitch that successfully.

He was a street kid from New Jersey who’d bounced around the Oriole system several years (speedball legend Steve Dalkowski was once a teammate) before the Angels lifted him in a minor-leaguers’ draft. He proved to have too much taste for the Hollywood demimonde, too little regard for his own talent, too much vodka, and (especially after a spell in the 1965-66 Phillies’ bullpen) too many amphetamines, before three failed marriages and desperation drove him to hard-fought sobriety and Christianity later in life.

When Belinsky retired Dave Nicholson on a pop out to third to finish his rookie no-hitter, as he eventually admitted in his inimitable way, his first words to catcher Bob Rodgers were, “Hey, look at the blonde with the big tits!” The first question he faced from reporters after the game was, “When did you start thinking about a no-hitter?” Belinsky’s answer: “This morning at about five o’clock.” Wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

Detmers seems too grounded to even think about spiraling into the Belinsky style. “There are times that it hasn’t really sunk in that he’s in the major leagues,” his mother, Erin, told a reporter. “Because he’s still our son. He’s only 22. It just seems so surreal. But it’s real.”

He’s known to only look relaxed before a start while pondering his game plan for the day. “It’s just something I’ve dreamed of ever since I was a little kid,” said post-game. “I didn’t think it’d ever happen. I don’t even know. I probably won’t even remember this tomorrow.” For this Angels rookie, it won’t be for the sort of reasons his Angels rookie ancestor from 1962 might have forgotten a few details, either.