Baseball

Near No-Nos in Kansas City: A Look Back at Thirty Years of Close Calls

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On Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field, second-year left-hander Kris Bubic followed up the worst start of his short major league career with one of his best. After a second-inning walk, the southpaw set down 17 straight Chicago Cubs. When the dust settled, Bubic had six no-hit innings.

Then the rain came. Well, it was supposed to, but it did not. But the tarp was on the field, and it stayed on for 34 minutes. Mike Matheny was not thrilled. When the umpires finally had enough and said, “screw it, let’s play,” Bubic came back out for the seventh. After a leadoff walk, Patrick Wisdom deposited a pitch into the left-field bleachers. No-hitter over, shutout over. The game had gone from potential history to mundane in the blink of an eye.

The Cubs would not notch another hit the rest of the way, and Bubic would earned a well-deserved win. But for the Royals, Saturday marked the 4,487th consecutive game that ended without the Royals throwing a no-hitter. Thursday, August 26 will mark the 30th anniversary of the last Royals no-no, which was thrown by Bret Saberhagen against the White Sox in 1991.

To be fair, this is not an article where I intend to complain. The Padres, of course, finally got their first one in their 53-year-old history on April 9, courtesy of Joe Musgrove (a hilarious note: it took the Padres over 8,200 games to toss a no-no. Their fellow member of the National League expansion class of 1969, Montreal, needed just ten games for their first no-hitter).

Of the rest, six teams have a single no-hitter, including the Mets, who waited a half-century before their first one (by Johan Santana) in 2012. Toronto’s one and only no-hit effort (by the criminally underrated Dave Steib) came in 1990. Milwaukee’s one no-no came in 1987 from 22-year-old Juan Nieves, just a year before his career abruptly ended. Then, as if owning the longest World Series drought in baseball is not enough, Cleveland also owns the longest no-hitter drought, with their last one being Len Barker‘s perfect game in 1981.

Nonetheless, barring something dramatic in the next few days, the Royals will be the fourth team in Major League Baseball to be sitting three decades and counting without a no-no by this time next week. That does not mean they have not been close. So let us look back at some of the near misses, working downwards in terms of longest bid.

Jorge Lopez (8.0 IP)—September 8, 2018

We will get the longest and perhaps the most painful no-hit bid out of the way first. Any way you draw it up, Jorge Lopez‘s tenure with the Royals was an absolute bust, but on one night in 2018, he was nearly immortal. At Target Field, Lopez went 24-up, 24-down over eight innings.

Alas, in the blink of an eye it was all gone: a leadoff walk in the ninth followed by a single erased any chance for immortality, and Lopez was lifted afterwards, settling for 8.0 innings of one-hit, one-run ball in a 4-1 win. He did accomplish something no other Royal has done though:

Brady Singer (7.2 IP)—September 10, 2020

Two years and two days after Lopez’s flirtation with history, Brady Singer opened the eyes of Royals fans with 7 2/3 no-hit innings in Cleveland, a bid that ended with an Austin Hedges single on a 3-2 pitch in the eighth. The masterpiece occurred in just Singer’s ninth big-league start.

In retrospect, maybe it’s not the worst thing that Singer didn’t finish the job. Yes, he was working with a huge lead in an eventual 11-1 win, but considering Singer expended 119 pitches in 8.0 innings and Mike Matheny was quoted postgame saying he would let the 24-year-old rookie go as long as necessary, it’s probably for the best that Singer wasn’t out there in ninth inning pushing 135-140 pitches in search of a no-hitter.

Jeremy Guthrie (7.2 IP)—August 19, 2012

To be honest, I did not remember Jeremy Guthrie coming four outs shy of a no-hitter. But, nonetheless, in just the sixth start of what became an impressive reclamation project by the Royals, Guthrie came that close. The bizarre thing, though, is that at the time we didn’t know it. How?

Well, Guthrie’s no-hit bid appeared to be over when Paul Konerko reached on an infield single. However, the hit was retroactively changed to an error by Major League Baseball, but that wasn’t until after the game. The no-hit bid was actually broken up when Guthrie allowed consecutive singles with two outs in the eighth before being lifted. He didn’t even get the win, as both runs scored on an Eric Hosmer error to tie the game, before the Royals rallied for a 5-2 win.

Kevin Appier & Co. (7.1 IP)—April 26, 1995

This was a weird one. This was actually Opening Day because the ugliness that was the 1994-95 MLB strike had been resolved less than a month earlier. Only 24,170 were on hand for the smallest Opening Day crowd in Kauffman Stadium history, with the bitterness from the strike certainly playing a role.

The fact that the players dealt with an abbreviated spring training also played a role in this game, because while established ace Kevin Appier got the ball against Baltimore, he was on a strict pitch count, which meant that despite 6.2 no-hit innings, he was out after 98 pitches. Manager Bob Boone’s reflection:

“When I walked out and I heard all the boos from the fans, I wanted to go: ‘Wait a minute. He’s got too many pitches and this is the first game out of spring training.’ But they didn’t understand. So when I look back on it, I go, ‘that was dumb’. That kind of set the tone as to how dumb I was for the rest of my managerial career.”

In any case, the fans weren’t happy, Appier was done, and Rusty Meacham entered the fray. He recorded two outs before allowing a single with one out in the eighth. He was then replaced by Billy Brewer who allowed another single (which scored a run), which was the final Baltimore hit in a 5-1 Royals win.

Danny Duffy (7.0 IP)—August 1, 2016

Yes, Danny Duffy started off a 3-0 at Tampa Bay by holding the Rays without a hit for the first seven innings, before a Desmond Jennings double broke up the bid in the eighth inning. However, the story of this game isn’t that, but that he fact that he set a franchise record with 16 strikeouts, despite not even coming out for the ninth inning.

This game was in the midst of the high-water mark of the Danny Duffy experience, which I touched on here. That start came in the middle of a tear where Duffy went 9-0 with a 2.14 ERA over 11 starts (all of which the Royals won) and averaged nearly 7 1/3 innings per start, including what is still the only complete game of his career, which came ten days after his finest effort.

Kevin Appier (6.2 IP)—July 27, 1993

Less than two years after Saberhagen’s no-hitter, his successor at the front of the Royals rotation, Appier shows up again with perhaps the finest effort of his career, yet it all went for naught. Appier set down the first 16 batters he faced, eight by strikeout, before a sixth-inning walk.

The no-hitter and shutout both ended with a screeching halt with two outs in the seventh. Rafael Palmeiro put a 1-0 pitch into the right-field bullpen and the Rangers had a run. Royals catcher Mike MacFarlane didn’t even think the pitch was all that bad, saying, “The guy gave up one hit, you can’t say any pitch he threw was a mistake. He was hitting my glove all night. I didn’t have to move it.” Meanwhile, the Royals offense sputtered.

Appier did not allow another runner and finished with an 11-strikeout, complete-game one-hitter. However, despite notching nine hits off Kenny Rogers, The Gambler wound up with the better hand, as the Royals wasted a leadoff double, had one runner hosed trying to stretch a single, another caught stealing, and one more doubled off first for good measure. The Royals lost 1-0.

Jakob Junis (6.1 IP)—April 9, 2018

Jakob Junis was a bright spot early on in a dark 2018 season, and his second start of that season was one of his best as a big leaguer. On a very cold night at Kauffman (42 degrees at first pitch), Junis took a no-hitter into the seventh. With one out, though, Esky Magic couldn’t quite save Junis’ shot at a no-no.

Junis finished seven innings of one-hit ball and Brandon Maurer gave up another hit in the eighth, though it’s possible he wouldn’t have been in the game had Escobar been able to throw out Vogelbach. The Royals won 10-0.

Chris Young (6.1 IP)—June 9, 2015

When Chris Young was on, the 6-10 righty had an amazing knack for being extremely hard to hit despite rarely throwing over 88 and only throwing two pitches: a fastball and a slider. However, in 2015, he allowed just 6.6 H/9, and in this start, he started off with 6.1 hitless innings in Minnesota.

Nursing a 1-0 lead in the seventh, Young allowed a high fly ball to right off the bat of Trevor Plouffe, which Statcast gave an expected batting average of .130. However, that fly ball was directly down the right-field line, so it caromed high off the wall for a triple. Young was immediately lifted, and after one out from Franklin Morales, a lethal dose of H-D-H held the Twins hitless the rest of the way to nail down a 2-0 win.

Hipolito Pichardo (5.2 IP)—July 21, 1992

Even if he allowed a hit fairly early compared to the rest of this list, the man with an 80-grade name, Hipolito Pichardo, came about as close as any Royal has ever come to throwing a perfect game in a Tuesday night contest at then-Royals Stadium against Boston. The only hit was a two-out double down the left field line from number-nine hitter Luis Rivera.

As the Los Angeles Times put it the next day: “He missed by an umpire’s call of getting 18 in a row. With the count 2-2 on Luis Rivera, umpire Terry Cooney called a close pitch a ball. Rivera pulled the next pitch for a double down the left-field line.

That double was the only hit and only baserunner against Pichardo, who faced just 28 batters while going the distance in an 8-0 victory.

Zack Greinke (1.2 IP)—August 30, 2009

This game is different in that the no-hit bid was over long before it could be seriously discussed or even thought about. On a Sunday afternoon in Seattle (fun fact: Mike Sweeney was in the Mariners’ lineup), Zack Greinke carved up the M’s. However, with two outs in the second inning, Kenji Johjima dropped a bloop single in front of Mitch Maier, who played it safe with a runner at first in a scoreless game (unfortunately, I can’t find video of the play).

Afterwards, Maier said this: “I still don’t know if I would have caught it…I was thinking later, `I’ll really feel bad if that’s the only hit he gives up today,’ but at the time a no-hitter wasn’t going through my head.” It was the only hit. Greinke retired the last 22 batters to polish off a 3-0 win, the sixth complete game of his Cy Young-winning 2009 campaign.

Other Notes

Since Saberhagen’s no-hitter, the Royals have thrown 13 one-hitters. Two of them were 1-0 losses on the road with only 8.0 innings pitched. Another was a 2012 game that was shortened to seven innings due to rain. Six of those games were complete-game one-hitters, though Greinke’s 2019 masterpiece is the only one since 1995.

Additionally, three entries on this list wound up being two-hitters, of which there have been 52 of them since Saberhagen’s no-no. Four of them were less than nine innings and ten were complete-game efforts. my favorite one was Brian Anderson‘s two-hit shutout against the White Sox on August 4, 2004. Anderson allowed a double on the second pitch of the game, then another one with one out in the ninth. Both were to Aaron Rowand and they were the only hits of the game for Chicago.

Baseball is a funny game, and because of that, the next no-hitter could always be hours away or years away. It could be an ace, or it could be a nobody. Who knows? That’s the beauty of it all.


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