Brewers’ combined no-hitter breaks record for the most in a season
By Benjamin Hoffman
It began with the dominance of a starting pitcher who struck out 14 batters, it was preserved with a thrilling catch in center field, and it was finished off by a reliever thanks to an escalating pitch count. But Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers combined for a masterpiece in a 3-0 win over Cleveland, helping to set a record for no-hitters in a season.
Burnes was comically dominant for most of the game, recording at least one strikeout against all but one of Cleveland’s batters. He was perfect through six innings and his only blemish was a leadoff walk to start the seventh. Burnes nearly gave up a hit with two outs in the eighth, but center fielder Lorenzo Cain made a terrific sliding catch on a liner by Owen Miller to keep the no-hit bid going.
With that, however, Burnes received a handshake from manager Craig Counsell and his night was over as he had reached 115 pitches — seven more than he had thrown in any other start this season.
Burnes was upbeat after the game, acknowledging that keeping him healthy for the playoffs was more important than an individual accomplishment. But if it was his choice, he would have liked to stay in. “I think anyone would want to keep pitching in that situation,” he said.
Hader came on in relief of Burnes in the ninth and retired the side in order, striking out two and getting a fine defensive play from first baseman Jace Peterson who ran down a pop-up in foul territory.
The combined effort was the ninth no-hitter of the season, breaking a tie with 1884 for the most in a season. A record three of the no-hitters have come against Cleveland, with Zach Plesac having started all three games for the Indians.
The surge of no-hitters this season has raised questions about why these seem to be occurring at such an extraordinary rate.
Who has thrown a no-hitter this season?
— Joe Musgrove, San Diego Padres (April 9 vs. Texas Rangers): In throwing the first no-hitter in his franchise’s long history, Musgrove allowed only one base runner, on a hit-by-pitch. He threw 112 pitches, but manager Jayce Tingler was determined to let him see it through. “He was in control,” Tingler said. “After the seventh inning, that’s when we kind of put all the chips in. For Joe, for the team, for the organization, for the city that hadn’t had a no-hitter before, at that point you throw everything out the window and you roll with it.”
— Carlos Rodón, Chicago White Sox (April 14 vs. Cleveland Indians): Rodón was two outs from baseball’s 24th perfect game when he hit Roberto Pérez with a pitch. “It just feels good to finally sit here and tell you I dominated today, and it felt good,” Rodón said.
— John Means, Baltimore Orioles (May 5 vs. Seattle Mariners): Like Musgrove, Means was breaking a long streak for his franchise: No Baltimore starter had thrown a no-hitter on their own since Jim Palmer did so in 1969. Means had never thrown a complete game and said he was nervous entering the ninth inning. “I got a little bit of the Jell-O legs, started to feel a little wobbly,” he said. “But once I threw that first pitch, I was able to lock in again.”
— Wade Miley, Cincinnati Reds (May 8 vs. Cleveland): Miley had to wait out an 83-minute rain delay before getting started, but he needed only 2 hours, 34 minutes to record baseball’s fourth no-hitter of the season. “He put on a clinic,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.
— Spencer Turnbull, Detroit Tigers (May 18 vs. Seattle): He said he did not feel right at all to start the game, but Turnbull, who led the majors in losses in 2019, made quick work of the Mariners, striking out nine and allowing only two base runners on walks. “It got to a point I think the last four innings, I don’t know if he shook one time,” catcher Eric Haase said. “We were just in really great sync and whatever I was putting down he was throwing and he was executing.”
— Corey Kluber, New York Yankees (May 19 vs. Texas): A four-pitch walk to Charlie Culberson in the third inning was all that stood between Kluber and perfection. But Kluber, in his first season in pinstripes after throwing only one inning for Texas last year because of injury, still managed the Yankees’ first no-hitter since David Cone’s perfect game in 1999. “There’s a lot of things that have to go your way,” Kluber said. “It’s definitely cool to do it in this uniform.”
— Zach Davies and three relievers, Chicago Cubs (June 24 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers): Davies lasted only six innings but his bullpen was able to keep the magic even as all four pitchers struggled with their control. “The hard part is taking out a guy that hasn’t given up a hit,” manager David Ross said of his decision to remove Davies. “I didn’t see him going nine for sure.”
— Tyler Gilbert, Diamondbacks (Aug. 14 vs. San Diego): Gilbert, a rookie acquired from Philadelphia as a Rule V draft pick, was making his first major league start but he was able to finish off the Padres in an efficient manner, needing just 21 pitches to record the final nine outs of the game. “I tried to tune out as much as I could,” Gilbert told reporters. “But that last inning, I heard everything.”
— Corbin Burnes and one reliever, Milwaukee Brewers (Sept. 11 vs. Cleveland): Burnes was at the top of his game, facing just one batter over the minimum in eight innings of work with 14 strikeouts and one walk. He was relieved to start the ninth because he had reached 115 pitches.
What is going on?
A number of factors are in play leading to the surge of no-hitters. Chief among them are an emphasis on power pitching and batters’ having shown a willingness to sell out contact in order to increase power. Those factors, plus surgical deployment of high-quality relievers, has resulted in strange numbers across the board.
Teams were averaging 8.09 hits per game through Sept. 10 — the third lowest mark since 1909, according to Baseball Reference — and were striking out 8.72 times a game, the second highest total ever. As a result, batters were hitting .243 and scoring was down significantly for a second consecutive season.
Another factor that has to be considered is control. Shutouts are almost entirely a thing of the past — there have been 28 this season, and there have been fewer than 40 in each season since 2015 — but the starters who have thrown a no-hitter this season have kept their pitch counts low by employing remarkable control. Gilbert walked three batters, Turnbull walked two and Miley, Kluber and Burnes each walked one. The other three pitchers who threw a no-hitter this season didn’t issue a single free pass. That obviously was not the case in the Cubs’ combined no-hitter, where each pitcher issued at least one walk.
Factor in colder weather in April and May, a new baseball, a preponderance of prohibited substances ahead of an MLB crackdown, advanced defensive positioning and other changes in the game and it has seemingly become a recipe for no-hitters becoming a common occurrence.
But you can’t discount simple variance. While no-hitters come at a fairly predictable rate over long periods of time, they have frequently come in clumps and then gone long stretches without one.