One must wonder what might have happened Friday night in Miami if Rockies manager Jim Tracy had chosen to rest leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler. If not for Fowler, Anibal Sanchez might have thrown a complete-game shutout -- and the second no-hitter of his career.
Fowler led off the game with a walk, reached second on a passed ball, advanced to third on a groundout and then scored on an error by first baseman Gaby Sanchez. It was an inauspicious beginning to a ballgame, and few would have guessed after that first frame that Anibal Sanchez would come close to making history before the night was over.
Sanchez did not allow a runner other than Fowler (who walked again in the third) until the seventh, when Todd Helton drew a two-out walk. By then, the first inning had been long forgotten -- partly because the Marlins were ahead 4-1, but mostly because Sanchez was working on a no-hitter. The Marlins’ starter was nothing short of dominant, keeping the Rockies off balance with an especially nasty changeup to alternate with a fastball that was riding in the 92-94 mph range and touched 96 on a few occasions.
There were two close calls in the first eight innings. The first came in the third, when Jonathan Herrera's sharp ground ball most likely would have bounced into the outfield for a base hit. But, Fowler was running on the pitch, inducing Hanley Ramirez to cover second base -- in perfect position for Ramirez to snare the grounder, step on second and relay to first for an easy double play.
The next close call came in the seventh, when Troy Tulowitzki scorched a liner off Sanchez's right leg and bounced toward first base. Sanchez recovered quickly, chasing after the ball to pick it up and race to the bag, beating Tulowitzki by a step.
The no-hitter was still intact when Fowler led off the ninth with a broken-bat grounder. The ball painfully straggled through the infield, barely eluding the reach of second baseman Omar Infante to dribble off into right field for the first -- and last -- hit of the game for the Rockies.
Near no-hitters are already far from rare for Florida in this young season. Staff ace Josh Johnson took one into the seventh inning on Opening Day against the Mets and another into the eighth against the Braves on April 13. But Fish fans are not the only ones who have been treated to the excitement of a near no-hitter. Among others, Tim Lincecum held these same Rockies hitless through 6 1/3 innings just four days ago, Mark Buehrle kept the A's at bay through five in a losing effort April 11 and Kyle Drabek allowed no Twins to hit safely through 5 1/3 on April 2. Only 24 hours before Anibal Sanchez's gem, Roy Oswalt took a no-hitter into the fifth in San Diego.
Just because it’s fresh in your memory and mind, I'm not so sure you can count Oswalt's effort, impressive as it was. Retiring the first dozen batters of a ballgame is nothing to sneeze at, but for me it's hardly reason to start thinking no-no. At the same time, I can understand the premature excitement -- especially with so many close calls coming so early in the season and with the glut of no-hitters seen in 2010.
Last year, tabbed by many as "the year of the pitcher," wound up with a total of six no-hitters thrown. It will perhaps be equally famous for another two near-misses because of the most famous imperfect game of all time, that thrown by Armando Galarraga. That half-dozen doses of hitlessness represented the highest tally in one season since seven were spun in 1991; the last time before '91 that as many as six were seen in a single season was 1969. In the 18 years between 1991 and 2010, there were 32 no-hitters -- a little less than two per year -- and fans saw none in 2000 and 2005.
So no-hitting anybody was something of a rarity before 2010, and suddenly it's a "hit" again. It is perhaps too soon to start talking about its replacing the long ball as the ultimate excitement for the average baseball fan, but if the quantity of no-hit bids in the first month of the season is any indication, 2011 could be another year of the pitcher.
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