Add Oakland A’s lefthander Sean Manaea to the list of pitchers who threw a no-hitter but couldn’t follow it up with a second consecutive one. After holding the Red Sox hitless on April 21, he fell short of the feat Friday night against the Astros, allowing a fourth-inning hit.
In 1938, Cincinnati Reds lefthander Johnny Vander Meer became the only major-league pitcher to record consecutive no-hitters. Vander Meer’s record is 80 years old and going strong. Even Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan, who totaled 11 no-hitters, couldn’t do it.
“Two in a row? I’m not sure anybody can,’’ Koufax, 82, said in a phone interview before the season. “Nolan Ryan didn’t, nobody will.’’
Koufax pitched four career no-hitters, including a perfect game against the Cubs in 1965, but never gave Vander Meer’s record a thought.
“No, no. Absolutely not,’’ he said. “You go out every time to pitch a no-hitter, but then you give up nine hits. So you pitch a nine-hitter. You have to be very lucky to pitch a no-hitter. To pitch two in a row, you have to be good and lucky. You have to be very lucky. You have great pitchers that have never had a no-hitter.’’
Ryan, who threw a record seven no-hitters, made it to the eighth inning in a bid for a second straight no-hitter in 1973. He was the first to seriously challenge Vander Meer’s record since 1947, when Ewell Blackwell, Vander Meer’s teammate, went into the ninth inning against the Dodgers in his bid for two straight before surrendering a hit to Eddie Stanky.
Pitching for the Angels in 1973, Ryan beat the Tigers, 6-0, and struck out 17 on July 15 in Detroit. It was his second career no-hitter and second that season. The strikeout total almost rivaled the no-hitter, Ryan’s catcher, Art Kusnyer, said from Sarasota, Florida. “He struck out Norm Cash the first time up and as Cash was walking back, Bill Freehan asked him how Nolan was throwing. Cash said, ‘Don’t go up there.’ ’’
With two outs in the ninth, Cash, who had struck out three times, comically came to the plate with a table leg, but the plate umpire made him use a baseball bat. “Why not? I won’t hit him anyway,’’ Cash was quoted at the time. He popped up for the final out.
Ryan’s next start, on July 19, came in Anaheim against the Orioles. Ryan started the eighth inning by hitting Brooks Robinson. Next up was Mark Belanger, a lifetime .228 hitter with a career .244 average against Ryan. Belanger singled to center. Ryan went on to allow two more hits and lost, 3-1, after pitching 10 1⁄3 innings.
“You jam it and he hits it,’’ Ryan, 71, said from Round Rock, Texas, still voicing exasperation 45 years later. “I had 12 one-hitters and I think I took six of those into the ninth inning. There’s just so many things that can happen that are out of your control.’’
Belanger died in 1998. “I knew my dad hit very well against Nolan Ryan relative to the rest of the world,’’ son Richard Bellanger said. And that hit that broke up the no-hitter? “We did talk about it on a number of occasions.’’
Kusnyer said Ryan was disappointed that night. “But he didn’t come in and rant and rave about it. We were thinking he could make history here. He had it going. Every time you go out there with him, from the first inning, you think you had a chance for a no-hitter.’’
Jeff Torborg, who caught Koufax’s perfect game, Bill Singer’s no-hitter and Ryan’s first no-hitter, was injured when Ryan pitched against the Tigers and Orioles in ’73. “He and Sandy were very similar personalities,’’ Torborg said. “I could neverremember them talking about records or anything. Just the next game. I told Sandy that when he’s not around, I take credit for the perfect game. He said, ‘Yes, I heard that.’ ’’
Former Yankees pitcher Don Larsen said his 1956 perfect game against the Dodgers in the World Series was comparable to Vander Meer’s record. He said he used to appear at card shows with Vander Meer and they would discuss their records. “In the first place, they can’t beat it, all they can do is tie it,’’ the 88-year-old Larsen said from Hayden, Idaho, referring to both accomplishments.
Dean Chance had two no-hitters 20 days apart for the Twins (one a rain-shortened five innings) in August 1967. But in September 1991, MLB’s Committee for Statistical Accuracy redefined a no-hitter as being nine or more innings. That made Virgil Trucks, Allie Reynolds, Ryan and Max Scherzer the only pitchers with two no-hitters in one regular season.
In today’s game, with pitch counts and reduced innings by starters, can anyone hope to make a run at Vander Meer’s record? Ryan mentioned Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw. Verlander and Scherzer have two no-hitters each and Kershaw has one.
Said Ryan, “Those guys all have the potential to do it because of the stuff that they have and also because of the stamina and endurance that they have. Those guys go late in the games.’’
Verlander was 10 outs from a second straight no-hitter on May 13, 2011 when he gave up a triple to Melky Cabrera of the Royals. “I definitely wanted to tie [Vander Meer] tonight, maybe beat him next time,” Verlander told the Oakland Press News. “It’s definitely something that’s pretty neat, but it didn’t tie a record or anything . . . ’’
Scherzer pitched both of his no-hitters in 2015, with his second coming against the Mets on Oct. 3 at Citi Field. His June 20 no-hitter against the Pirates came after he one-hit the Brewers in his previous start.
Scherzer, speaking on a conference call in November after winning his second consecutive Cy Young Award, was asked if he even thought about tying Vander Meer.
“The obvious answer is no,’’ he said. “It’s such a fluke to throw a no-hitter in the first place; to throw two in a row is even a bigger fluke. There would have to be some extenuating circumstances to allow that to happen in the first place. Maybe if April happens to be really cold. Hitters don’t seem to like cold, so maybe that’s the scenario when two no-hitters would be thrown back-to-back.’’
Kershaw said through a Dodgers spokesman, “Wow . . . that’s really difficult. I don’t know. You have to have a lot go right, regardless of how you pitch. You have to pitch amazing and then on top of that, you have to have a lot of things go your way.”
Ryan was 26 when he pitched his first no-hitter and 44 when he threw his last one on May 1, 1991 against the Blue Jays. He ended his career with a record 5,714 strikeouts. None of his no-hitters came during the first five seasons of his career with the Mets.
“Considering the pitchers they had on their staff throughout the years, I thought it was ironic that they didn’t have somebody throwing a no-hitter,’’ Ryan said. Johan Santana threw the Mets’ only no-hitter on June 1, 2012 at Citi Field against the Cardinals.
Ryan said he never expected to throw one no-hitter, much less seven. “What’s interesting was I threw one no-hitter in Little League, I threw one no-hitter in high school and I didn’t throw another no-hitter until the one in Kansas City,’’ on May 15, 1973.
“When that [first no-hitter] happened, I didn’t think, ‘Oh, man, this is in the future for me,’ because I was just under the impression everything lined up right that night. But did I think 60 days later or whatever it was that I would throw another one? No.’’
Ryan said doing it in two straight starts would be an incredible feat.
“Everything just has to go right twice,’’ he said. “The ball that’s hit hard but goes right at somebody; everything has to line up right. Anybody that throws a no-hitter is capable of doing it back-to-back if everything comes together. I would have liked to have accomplished that. But I didn’t think that was very realistic.’’