|Sorry for the blurriness. I was really excited.|
I’ve watched my share no hitters on the TV before. I decided to watch Randy pitch against the Braves in 2004 because the Mariners weren’t on and I like watching baseball and Randy pitching; he threw a perfect game and I watched it in its entirety. During the 2003 season I turned into a Huston Astros at New York Yankees game in the middle of the fifth inning and as I watched the Yankees (much to my delight) got dominated. It was only after the game that I found out I had just witnessed the final four innings of the rarest pitching performance in the MLB history, a combined No-Hitter.
The Astros’s used six different pitchers in their combined no-hitter as they throttled the Yankees 8-0. I remember watching the Astros (with a 4-0 lead) going through pitchers like a woman going through cash at a shoe store. And I couldn’t figure out why they were doing that with a four, then five, then six and then eight run lead. I was even more confused when the announcer said that it was a no-hitter. That was the last combined no-hitter, until last night. The Seattle Mariners repeated the pitching performance last night beating the Dodgers 1-0 using six pitchers to complete the no-hitter.
Kevin Millwood flirted with a no-hitter against Colorado a few weeks ago and he was the starter last night. For six innings he had a no-hitter cooking against the Dodgers. And he was absolutely brilliant; he didn’t allow a base runner until the fourth inning. In the ballpark no one was saying much, but there was that certain feeling that something special was brewing. As each inning went by I began to feel more certain that I might be seeing my first no-hitter in person. And then my dad said; “I don’t want to talk about it or anything, but Millwood has a no-hitter through five.”
Again he said the same thing after the sixth. After six innings Millwood was sitting at 68 pitches, he had walked one and struck out six. He went out to warm up for the seventh, threw two pitches and signaled to Mariners’ manager Eric Wedge and trainer Rick Griffin; he was done, after six innings of no-hit ball Millwood was forced to pull himself out with a groin injury. In the ballpark everyone was trying to figure out why Millwood would be pulled in the middle of this gem of a pitching performance, especially since he had been so efficient. The confusion is was so bad that one fan sitting near me exclaimed; “Well he better be injured! Leaving the game in the middle of the no-hitter, phhh!”
Well Charlie Furbush was called into this tight situation and he got the first batter he faced. Then he made a bone headed throwing error to first that allowed the Dodgers second base runner of the game. Fortunately for Furbush, and the no-no, Andre Either decided to be generous and struck out swinging. At this point in the game the M’s and Dodgers were tied at zero. Any moves that Wedge made had to be focused on earning the win; the no-hitter had to be a secondary consideration. Furbush had done his job and it was time to bring on the flame throwing rookie in Stephen Pryor. Who proceeded to strike out Juan Rivera.
|The list of pitchers involved|
This was the point where Safeco Field started to really rock. I haven’t seen Safeco Field that energized since a four game series against the Angles at the end of August, 2007. And that building only got louder as Ichiro got a classic Ichiro infield single. Ichi followed that up with a stolen base, and Kyle Seager did what Kyle Seager does and hit an RBI single with two outs. Safeco Field was on fire, as Stephen Pryor (now in line for the win) came out to pitch the top of the eighth inning.
This is where Pryor walked himself into a little bit of trouble, quieting the Safeco Crowd (I heard “God D*** it Mariners!” from somebody behind me). The crowd became even quitter as the left field scoreboard showed that Brandon League was warming up in the bullpen (so was Luetge). Wedge brought in Luetge to face Loney, who grounded out to first moving the runners to third and second.
That was when Wedge went and got League. This was honestly the part of the game were I was the most nervous. I was hoping that League would actually use his splitter and not rely on his fastball and slider. Safeco was as quite as a grave yard, League’s blown saves (while weeks ago) were on almost everybody’s mind. Meanwhile, Chone Figgins had been put into left as a defensive replacement for Mike Carp and nobody noticed.
A.J Ellis was the man at the dish and Brandon League was on the mound. It seemed like the perfect moment for the Dodgers not only to spoil the no-hitter, but take the lead. Ellis quickly found himself in 0-2 hole, but he didn’t give up. He managed to foul off two pitches before hitting a sharp liner to left. Screams of “NO!” emanated from my mouth and many others at Safeco Field. I swear that my heart stopped the entire time that that ball was in the air. This was when I first noticed Figgins out in left field, and my heart dropped like a rock.
Fortunately for all Mariner fans, Figgins did not live up to his nick name (Chokin’ Chone) and he caught the ball. Even better yet? His throw to home was a laser beam and on target, preventing the runner from attempting to tag. Four pitches later and League struck out Tony Gwynn Jr. At this point I turned to Adam Clark and said “I wouldn’t be shocked to see Ryan come in as a defensive replacement for Kawasaki.”
Before I talk about the ninth inning, I want to talk about the two veterans that M’s fans are ready to see leave. League and Figgins both came up huge in that eighth inning. Figgins made a play that made a play that will forever go down in M’s history as one of the most clutch throws from the outfield. And League got the M’s out of a sticky jam with a K. League’s performance under pressure was more impressive to me. So far this season he has refused to use his split finger fastball; but that wasn’t the story last night. He used it a lot last night and as a result he got the crucial outs that allowed the M’s to preserve the six pitcher no-hitter.
Back to the game, a typical Mariners eighth (1-2-3) resulted in a save situation with a no-hitter on the line. And who better to bring in then “The Bartender” Tom Wilhelmsen, who has filled into the “Closer” role so nicely since League lost his handle on it. The first batter that Wilhelmsen faced was Dee Gordon, who attempted to bunt, but saw it role foul. The next pitch was a slow roller to short (Ryan DID replace Kawasaki at short). And Brendan Ryan made a play that only Brendan Ryan could make, throwing out the speedy Dee Gordon. At the time I didn’t know if Gordon was out (heck I STILL don’t know, it was such a bang-bang play), but Gordon didn’t think he was out. He started to jaw with the first base umpire, forcing Dodger manager Don Mattingly (tied with Rodger Maris as my favorite Yankee) to come out and save his player. After play resumed Herrera lined out to Ryan at short, leaving the M’s one out away from history.
The final out came on an Andre Either grounder to second, which Ackley tossed to Smoak sealing the deal.
Throughout the entire ninth inning the crowd had been on their feet (at least the lower bowl was). And as Wilhelmsen worked his way through the ninth they got louder and louder until it reached its loudest point after Smoak caught the final out. I nearly smashed my knee into the chair in front, I heard a lot of “WOW!” and “OH MY GOD!” coming from M’s fans sitting near me. In his postgame interview Wilhelmsen sounded like he had just woken up from a dream. That was probably the craziest thing I have seen while attending a sporting event. It was fun, exciting and nerve racking.
That was the third no-hitter in Mariners history and the second in Safeco Field history; both of Safeco’s no-hitters have been rare. Phil Humber threw the 21st (20th regular season) perfect game in major league history earlier this season. What happened last night was even rarer than a perfect game, it was a combined no-hitter. There have only been 10 combined no-hitters in MLB history. And boy was I glad I got to witness one in the ball park.