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Dan Shaughnessy

No good reason for no-nos

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / July 28, 2010

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Welcome to the No-Hit Zone of Major League Baseball, 2010. Must be the season of the pitch.

Red Sox players stopped in their tracks a few times while warming up for the series opener against the Angels Monday night. Shagging in the outfield, Jon Lester found himself checking out the big video board in center where Tampa Bay’s Matt Garza and Detroit’s Max Scherzer were locked in a double no-hit bid in the sixth inning at Tropicana Field.

“Yeah, I was checking it out,’’ said Lester, who threw a no-hitter against the Royals at Fenway two years ago. “You always stop and look when a guy is throwing a no-hitter.’’

Garza joined the no-hit club, smothering the Tigers for baseball’s fifth no-hitter this season. It’s the most no-hitters in a season since 1991, when there were seven. The all-time record for no-nos in a season is eight, set in 1884, which was also Vin Scully’s first year in the broadcast booth.

The 126-year-old record should be in jeopardy. It’s still July and there already have been six no-hitters if you include the perfect game that was taken from Armando Galarraga when umpire Jim Joyce blundered in Detroit in June.

Put it this way: The Tampa Bay Rays have played 99 games this year and three of them were no-hitters. That’s like the same Greyhound Bus getting hit by three bolts of lightning.

Why so many no-nos?

“I’ve been getting asked about that,’’ said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who caught no-hitters by Fernando Valenzuela and Kevin Gross. “Overall, I think there are a couple of things going on. There have been a lot of power arms coming up in our league the last few years and those guys are starting to mature. Guys like [Tampa’s David] Price and [Detroit’s Justin] Verlander and [Boston’s Clay] Buchholz. Even Jered Weaver here. Plus, offense is down a little and I do think it has something to do with testing for performance enhancers. Certainly pitchers benefited from that also, but overall I think the playing field has been leveled.’’

It’s as good a theory as any. Homers are down because it’s harder to cheat. And there’s no disputing the surge of power pitchers. There was a time when a guy who threw 97 miles per hour was rare. Today there are rotations with four guys who throw in the mid-90s.

“Nobody seems to be able to put their finger on the reason for this,’’ said Buchholz, who threw a no-hitter in his second start in the majors in 2007. “I think it’s just the luck of the draw.’’

Luck plays a big part in no-hitters. How else to explain that Roger Clemens never tossed a no-no, but the feat was accomplished by guys like Chris Bosio (against the Red Sox in 1993) and Joe Cowley?

“I was in a bunch of them,’’ said Jerry Remy. “I was at second base when Nolan Ryan [seven no-hitters] threw one of his against the Orioles. I made a good play behind the bag on Tommy Davis, but it helped that he couldn’t run anymore. Oakland threw one against us [Angels] on the last day of the season, using four different pitchers. Bert Blyleven threw one against us and so did Dennis Eckersley. I was also in the game in New York for the Red Sox when Dave Righetti no-hit us on the Fourth of July [in 1983]. I was on deck when [Wade] Boggs struck out for the final out. Good thing for Righetti. I could see the fear in his eyes.’’

Two Sox pitchers made runs at no-hitters on this trip. John Lackey took a no-hitter into the eighth in Seattle, but it was broken up on a two-out single by Josh Bard. Two nights later at Safeco Field, Lester was working on a perfect game and had 10 strikeouts with one out in the sixth when Eric Patterson dropped a fly ball in center field. A distracted Lester then surrendered a home run to No. 9 hitter Michael Saunders. Boston lost the game.

“It’s probably the best stuff I’ve had in my life,’’ said Lester. “But that just goes to show you. You can have so-so stuff and wind up with a no-hitter. Or you can have great stuff and not even win the game.’’

Lester and Buchholz have different mind-sets when a no-hitter is on the line. Buchholz sticks with the time-honored tradition of speaking to no one. Lester rejects the ancient ritual and interacts with teammates.

“Our dugout [at Fenway] is so small it’s hard to stay away from guys,’’ said Lester. “So I talk to guys the whole game. It helps keep my mind at ease. I’m usually talking between innings anyway, so I don’t want to sit there intensely pondering.’’

“No one talked to me that night,’’ Buchholz recalled. “I just tried to keep doing the same things the same way and sit in the same place between every inning. I just let [Jason Varitek] call the pitches. The whole thing is still like a blur to me.’’

Chicks used to dig the long ball. Now everybody digs no-hitters.

“It’s the big thing now,’’ said Clyde Wright, who pitched for the Angels four decades ago. “People have been asking me how come there’s so many no-hitters these days. Hell, I don’t know. I threw one in 1970 against Oakland. Anybody who thinks it’s easy should try to do it with the [junk] I had.’’

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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