By: Noah Wright
One of the best starting performances in MLB history is arguably Harvey Haddix. On that fateful day on May 26th, 1959, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ right hander went 12 perfect innings vs the Milwaukee Braves. Don Hoak made an error in the 13th on a Felix Mantilla ground ball, and it was the first base runner the Braves had seen all day. Then Eddie Mathews laid down a sac bunt to move Mantilla into scoring position. One of the best, if not the best batter of all time, Hank Aaron strode to the plate, and was intentionally walked, which is pretty understandable. Still without giving up a hit, the bases were somehow loaded. But Joe Adock put it to an end when he hit a deep fly ball to right center. Although Adock and Aaron passed each other on the bases, a run still scored, and Hadix finished with 13 innings pitched, 1 hit allowed, no earned runs, and 8 K’s.
Fast forward to August 23rd, 2017 and a similar situation involving the Pirates again is happening. But this time, they’re on the other end of a no hitter. Although the perfect game was broken up with an error from third baseman Logan Forsythe, the perfect game was intact through 9. The only thing that stopped the Dodgers from ending it in 9 was Trevor Williams. Williams, like the man, Lew Burdette, who opposed Haddix all those years ago, had pitched masterfully for the Bucs. He went 8 innings of 7 hit, shutout ball. The game then headed off into the 10th. After a scoreless inning from Juan Nicasio, the Pirates were back up. Hill, who was at just 95 pitches, faced second baseman Josh Harrison to start the bottom of the 10th. After Harrison worked the count to 2-1, Hill served up a pitch down the middle of the plate, and Harrison took full advantage of it. With one stroke of the bat, Josh Harrison ended it with a solo home run into the left field bleachers at PNC.
Now while a no hitter is extremely rare and hard already and a perfect game more so, the bigger rarity to happen that night was Rich Hill’s workload. Hill, who had started the game and threw the first pitch of the game, threw the last pitch of the game in the 10th. I mean think about it and look at today’s game. The bullpen is starting to become the norm. Rotations, while it’s not like they’ve been being phased out, a starting pitcher’s workload has been lessened and lessened season by season. The last time the average innings/game started was 6, you have to go back to 2014. Today, the average start is about 5.3 innings. The fact that Rich Hill even pitched 9 innings was a feat in and of itself.
Plus, the conditions in which Hill was pitching at had to be perfect, literally. He would have to have been pitching a perfect game or no hitter for most of the game to stay in as long as he did. In 2017, the average number of pitches per game started was 92. Hill, entering the 10th, was at 95. Today, the average has dropped even further to 88.
Hill’s feat will never be repeated again. Pitchers are throwing fewer innings every season, fewer pitchers per start every season, and the rise of the bullpen has given them no reason to overwork themselves. In the future, not only would the starter have to be throwing a no hitter at least, but also for it to go into extras. The last no hitter to go into extras before Rich Hill’s was, ironically as this theme has been going, was thrown by the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 12th, 1997. That day, the Pirates threw a combined no hitter between Francisco Cordova, who pitched 9 innings, and Ricardo Rincon, who threw 1 inning of relief. A few others have made it into extras, but outside of those few, not many no hitters/perfect games even make into late innings tied, let alone extras.