David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
Back in 2012, Terry Collins was in tears after letting Johan Santana throw the first no-hitter in Mets history, perhaps knowing what those 134 pitches eventually might cost his ace.
Four years later, with pitchers more fragile than ever, teams aren’t willing to take similar risks. It happened again Friday night when Marlins manager Don Mattingly pulled Adam Conley, 25, after 7 2⁄3 innings with a no-hitter still intact.
On April 8, the Dodgers’ Ross Stripling got the same treatment. He was five outs from completing a no-hitter against the Giants, but first-year manager Dave Roberts pulled him after he threw his 100th pitch.
The message? History can wait.
When it comes to starting pitchers, teams are committed to protecting them above all else, and that involves preserving whatever they have in their temperamental shoulders or elbows.
That policy, in their minds, boils down to pitch counts, the leash responsible for yanking Conley and Stripling from their outings. Both decisions were wildly unpopular with the fans, and Mattingly was booed loudly by the Miller Park crowd for denying them a special moment. But Conley had thrown 116 pitches, and to Mattingly, that meant his night was over.
“This kid has a chance to be really special, so there’s no way, at this point in the season, that we’re going to let him go to 130,” he said. “We know we have a long season and we feel like we have a chance to go somewhere. He’s going to have to be a part of that, so we have to protect him.”
Publicly, Conley said he was on board with the move and that he knew the clock was ticking once he got to 100 pitches. There’s no point in getting upset about it. It’s just the way the sport operates now, and unfortunately, that results in precious few complete games, along with these aborted no-hit bids. In Stripling’s case, the 26-year-old already had Tommy John surgery, and that night was his major-league debut. The combination of his elbow history and the adrenaline rush was a volatile mix the Dodgers did not want to test beyond 100 pitches.
Roberts felt even better about his decision when Stripling’s father sought him out the next day and thanked him for protecting his son. “Under no circumstance am I going to even consider putting his future in jeopardy,” Roberts told the Los Angeles Times back then. “For me, it was a no-brainer.”
Nope. The thinking, along with the emotion, has been removed in these instances. Just as with many other aspects of baseball, the data drives the decisions, and pushing the physical limits of a pitcher — especially a young prospect — is considered a foolish risk no matter what the reward might be.
Depriving Conley and Strip ling of their shots at baseball immortality feels like no fun for anyone at the time. But with their futures at stake, they’ll probably look back and be grateful. From what we’ve learned, in the modern game, history wasn’t on their side.
And Santana? After the 134-pitch no-hitter, he went 3-7 with an 8.27 ERA the rest of 2012. And after that season, he never threw another major-league pitch.