Perhaps the most improbable no-hitter in Major League Baseball history was thrown last night, May 3, 2011.
It wasn’t improbable because there were so many great defensive plays or the pitcher was going up against a team with a heavy-hitting lineup. No, it was more because this certain pitcher had never thrown a complete game in his major league career and was on the verge of losing his job.
Oh, Francisco Liriano, how you defied the odds and had me leave 56 points on my bench in my fantasy points league.
Surprisingly, I’m not that upset with my decision to leave Liriano on the bench. How could I be? After seeing his first five starts of the season, I was starting to wonder if I had a shot at being a major league pitcher. I know I could have done a better job than he was doing up until last night. I mean Jim Abbott could have probably come out of retirement and done a better job throwing right handed. For those unfamiliar with Jim Abbott – he has no right hand.
Liriano entered Tuesday night’s game sporting an ugly1-4 record with a 9.13 ERA and a 1.90 WHIP. ERA is earned run average. It basically tells you how many runs the pitcher would allow if he pitched a whole nine innings. The league average as of Wednesday was 3.90, so that gives you an idea of how bad Liriano has been. WHIP is walks/hits per innings pitched, meaning he was allowing at least two guys to reach base every inning. The league average is 1.31. Again, not good.
Furthermore, Liriano’s strikeout-to-walk ratio (which is a good stat to look at when determining how good a pitcher is at being consistently around the strike zone) was a mere 1:1 (18 to 18). That’s pretty terrible. When a pitcher sits a guy down and then promptly puts the next man on base (in theory) he isn’t going to do very well, especially if he is giving up another walk or hit in the same inning with his current WHIP.
On top of all of that, Liriano had never ‘gone the distance’ before. He had never recorded 27 outs in a game. He wasn’t far off in 2006 though, when he went 8 2/3’s against Tampa in an 8-1 win - striking out seven and walking none. Other than that he had only gone eight-plus innings six times in his 94 career starts.
Liriano had pitched so poorly entering Tuesday night’s game that there were talks of him being replaced in the rotation. I don’t know if he was stepping up to the challenge or if it was just his magical night. The coaches mentioned something about finding a flaw in his release point. Who knows. Regardless, he sure as heck picked a good time to step up and throw the best game of his career.
Although Liriano did throw the Twins’ first no-hitter since 1999, it was far from pretty. Liriano walked six guys while striking out two. He threw 123 pitches in the game. Only 66 of them went for strikes. I’m sure it helped that the Chicago White Sox are in the bottom quarter of the league in batting average.
To top it all off, it was a 1-0 game going into the bottom of the ninth. The first out of the ninthwas shaky, as the Twins’ short-stop threw a short-hopper to first basemen Justin Morneau. Luckily Morneau scooped it and held on for the out. Liriano then walked the speedy Juan Pierre and probably had his manager, Ron Gardenhire, losing his mind. With one steal and one bloop single, a no-hit bid could have quickly turned into a tie ballgame
Alexei Ramirez popped out to short for the second out and brought up lefty Adam Dunn. Liriano quickly fell behind 3-0 before stepping up and getting two strikes. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Dunn laced a line drive to short that was caught for the game-ender. If the ball was hit three feet to the left or to the right it would have been a hit.
Through it all, Liriano may have saved his job for at least a few more starts. The only thing I know for sure – he will still be on my fantasy bench when he goes out for his next start at Boston.