Early on, every team and every game in baseball is interesting. For the first few weeks of the season, things feel so fresh, and things are so unpredictable, that you’re thirsty for any kind of action. As things progress, teams fall off the radar of interest. Fans start to focus more on the teams that might make the playoffs, and teams in basements continue to play largely un-discussed, save for the event of trade rumors. Few, then, would’ve been paying attention to the Mariners and Astros over the weekend, given their respective identities, but what the teams managed to accomplish on Saturday was unprecedented. And for all the talk about trades and the playoffs, it’s important to recognize that any kind of baseball can be interesting, and we shouldn’t forget it. You never know which games you might find remarkable.
A big part of the appeal of perfect games, or, I don’t know, cycles, is rarity. People love seeing things in baseball they don’t see very often. But rarity isn’t enough alone to make something worth talking about. Never before, in the recorded history of baseball, has a starting pitcher gone 4.2 innings, with four walks, two hits, and a strikeout. Not once. So many thousands of games. But if that happened tomorrow, no one would care, just like no one cares about a weird leaf on the ground. That leaf is unique, but really, it’s just another leaf. There needs to be some blend of rarity + achievement, and I think the Mariners/Astros game qualifies.
Saturday evening, the Mariners beat the Astros 4-2. Not weird, on its face. The Astros are bad, and the Mariners are less bad, and less bad tends to conquer more bad. The Mariners actually swept the three-game series, which, again, isn’t weird. The trick to understanding Saturday is to dig a little deeper. It’s to find out about Erik Bedard‘s no-hitter bid.
Through four innings, Bedard was perfect. Through five innings, the only blemish was a walk. Then came the sixth and the seventh. Bedard carried his no-hitter through the sixth, but the Mariners scored twice to tie the Astros at two. Bedard was removed after two batters in the seventh, no-hitter still intact, and then three batters and one hit later, it was 4-2 Seattle. That’s how the score remained, and that’s how Seattle’s hit total remained.
On Saturday, the Mariners got one-hit and beat the Astros. On Saturday, the Mariners got one-hit and scored four runs and beat the Astros. Since 1916, teams getting one-hit have gone 51-1,037. Bedard wound up charged with three runs on zero hits, becoming just the fifth pitcher ever to allow at least three runs in a real no-hit bid. In 2003, Matt Clement was charged with three runs over five no-hit innings. Previous to that, you go back to 1990.
But this isn’t so much about Bedard. The Mariners became the first team ever to score at least four runs while getting one-hit. Now, that was carefully selected, because on July 1, 1990, the White Sox scored four runs despite getting no-hit. In that game, Andy Hawkins lost an eight-inning no-hitter, and he lost pretty bad. But one notes that, in that game, the White Sox had three batters reach on Yankees defensive errors. They all came in the bottom of the eighth, when the White Sox scored all their runs. On Saturday, the Mariners didn’t have a single batter reach base on an error. The Astros — in front of the plate — were defensively sound.
So the Mariners became the first team ever to score at least four runs while having no more than one batter reach base on a batted ball. And by “ever,” I mean “since 1916″ since I’ve been aided by the Baseball-Reference Play Index. Errors aren’t hits, but errors are free base-runners. The Mariners didn’t get to take advantage of any of those.
So how do you score four runs on one hit? I’ll walk you through the sequence.
In the top of the sixth, Bedard walked Michael Saunders on six pitches. All four balls were close.
Then Bedard walked Brad Miller. The last pitch, in a full count, easily could’ve been called a strike, but it just missed the rulebook outside edge, and Jason Castro immediately tried to throw down to second, which anecdotal evidence suggests makes a pitch more likely to be called a ball. The throw was pointless since Miller walked and Saunders was therefore entitled to second.
After the walks, Jason Castro forgot how to catch. This passed ball was on a fastball that was almost a strike, and the runners both moved up.
Nick Franklin brought a runner home on a sacrifice fly. Miller advanced to third, with two out.
And Castro let another pitch get away. Granted, the pitch was well outside, but it was also a fastball, and Castro fumbled it. Tie game, and we’re going to move on now to the top of the seventh.
With one down in the seventh, Bedard walked Justin Smoak on four pitches. Bedard clearly looked gassed, and at this point he was removed and replaced by Jose Cisnero. Bedard walked off to a standing ovation, leaving a no-hitter with eight outs to go. Bedard’s expression as he left the mound was one of worriment.
Two batters later, Cisnero walked Mike Zunino. That brought Saunders to the plate, and the runner now in scoring position was Bedard’s responsibility.
Saunders blasted the ball past Brandon Barnes for a two-out, two-run double. That would be the Mariners’ only hit, and that would be the only hit they’d need. Of interest is that, with ordinary dimensions, Saunders’ hit probably would’ve been a three-run homer, giving the Mariners an unprecedented fifth run. Saunders, also, fell down sprinting to third, forcing him to retreat to second. Under ordinary circumstances, this would’ve been a triple, and maybe — just maybe — an inside-the-park home run. Had Saunders made it to third, that would’ve given the Mariners another avenue to a fifth run.
Of additional interest is that Bedard didn’t lobby to remain in the game, despite the circumstances. Most pitchers hate to be removed, and no pitcher wants to leave a no-hitter in progress, but Bedard gave the ball to Bo Porter, and Bedard had a pretty good reason for doing so.
According to Bo Porter, he asked Bedard if he was done. Bedard said he was. Porter said, “Are you sure?” Bedard said, “I’m done.”
— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) July 21, 2013
Bedard: “I’ve had three shoulder surgeries. I’m not going over 110. I’d rather pitch a couple more years than face another batter.”
— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) July 21, 2013
Granted, Bedard didn’t have a prayer of going the distance. His final pitch was a fastball at 86.8 miles per hour.
Said Saunders, later:
“That’s the oddest win I’ve ever been a part of,” said Saunders. “To score two runs on no hits and no errors, I don’t remember the last time that happened. We’re just grinding out at-bats. Bedard pitched great — a no-hitter — and ended up taking the loss. I don’t know how that happens.”
“I would say probably the strangest game I’ve been involved in from little leagues to the big leagues,” said Houston manager Bo Porter. “Where you give up one hit and punch out 15 guys and end up on the losing side.”
On Saturday in Houston, the Astros limited the Mariners to one hit, and didn’t commit an error. On Saturday in Houston, the Astros fell to the Mariners 4-2. On Saturday in Houston, something happened that has never happened before, allowing neither team to come away feeling particularly proud of itself. You could say that maybe Saturday in Houston is an encapsulation of why not that many people are paying attention to the Mariners or the Astros these days. Neither team was good, but someone had to win, and the Astros have all but perfected the art of giving games away.
On Friday against the Astros, the Mariners hit .289 and scored ten runs. On Sunday against the Astros, the Mariners hit .333 and scored 12.