It seems like we've been chasing potential no-hitters all season long. Every other day I feel like I've been staring at MLB.tv broadcasts and box scores of hitless games into the sixth or seventh inning before somebody comes up with a bloop or a liner. Some of the bids have been a little shorter, and some of the bids have been a little longer. In the end, though, none of the bids were completed. That is, until Tuesday night, when Francisco Liriano tossed 2011's first no-hitter against the White Sox.
But while no-hitters are supposed to be this grand, amazing achievement, it's hard to look at Liriano's line and come away amazed by his greatness. If anything, you come away amazed that he was able to pull off the no-hitter despite everything else, because over the course of his game, Liriano walked six guys against two strikeouts, and tied a career high with 123 pitches thrown, of which just 66 - 54% - were strikes.
Bill James once devised a statistic known as Game Score. If you're unfamiliar with it, you can read about it here, but basically, it assigns a grade to a pitcher's performance in a game based on things like his hits, walks, strikeouts, innings, and so on. Francisco Liriano's game score on Tuesday night was 83. This is tied for the lowest game score in a no-hitter in baseball history (where baseball history begins in 1919, as per the Baseball-Reference Play Index).
The partial list:
83 - Francisco Liriano, 5/3/2011
83 - Lefty Chambers, 5/6/1951
84 - Joe Cowley, 9/19/1986
84 - George Culver, 7/29/1968
84 - Ken Holtzman, 8/19/1969
The average game score of all no-hitters is 91. The top is a tie between Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax, at 101. Liriano's at the opposite end, tied with a guy who walked eight batters.
I realize this might be kind of a buzzkill, given the circumstances. No-hitters are rare. Few get to throw one, and few get to see one. Witnessing a no-hitter is the baseball experience of a lifetime, and once it becomes apparent what's going on, you hang on every pitch and you release all that pent-up stress and euphoria the instant the final out is gloved. The last thing anybody wants to hear after a no-hitter is criticism of the no-hitter. You just want to savor the moment.
But there's just no getting around the facts, here. And honestly, you could argue that maybe the facts make the whole thing more enjoyable. We've seen a bunch of dominant pitching performances before. Liriano just barely survived. He threw too many pitches. He fell behind everybody. He didn't miss bats. The last out of the game was a line drive. And for Liriano to still throw a no-hitter, and to do it for a struggling team in what might've been his last chance to keep his rotation spot? This wasn't your ordinary no-hitter. This was Francisco Liriano being timely, and the very definition of effectively wild. This was history and excitement, blended with humor and magic.
Francisco Liriano came into his start against the White Sox on Tuesday night needing a dominant effort to lock down his slot in the rotation. He responded by throwing a no-hitter. And despite the no-hitter, we're still not sure if he did enough to hang on to his job for more than another turn or two.
That pretty much says it all.