A day after tossing the season's first no-hitter Wednesday night, Chicago White Sox lefthander Mark Buehrle was still having trouble believing it.
"My name and no-hitter shouldn't go together," Buehrle told White Sox beat writers. "It just doesn't sound right."
Buehrle is selling himself short.
His name sounds more believable in the same sentence with "no-hitter" than others who've pulled off the feat.
Remember Bud Smith?
How about Jose Jimenez?
Joe Cowley. Juan Nieves. Tommy Greene. Bo Belinsky. Mike Warren. Dave Morehead. Rex Barney. George Culver.
They're just a handful of pitchers who had spectacular moments - i.e., threw no-hitters - during unspectacular careers.
Don Larsen, who pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series, the only no-hitter ever in postseason play, was a journeyman who finished his career 10 games under .500.
Eric Milton, who pitched one for Minnesota in 1999, took a career ERA of 5.01 into his start against the Phillies last night.
Perhaps the least decorated pitcher to ever throw a no-no was the only pitcher to do it in his first big-league start, Bobo Holloman of the St. Louis Browns. He did it against the Philadelphia A's in May 1953. (Talk about a battle of two stumblebums. The A's went 59-95 that season; the Browns 54-100.)
Holloman's no-hitter accounted for one-third of his career wins. By the end of July, he was in the minors. For his career, he made just 10 big-league starts.
So Buehrle isn't exactly an unkempt gate-crasher in the no-hitter club. He's 98-66 with a 3.80 ERA in seven-plus seasons in the American League (lineups are deeper and tougher over there), and he has made three all-star teams.
Now he has a no-hitter on his record.
There are many great pitchers who can't say that. Roger Clemens, hailed by some as the best ever, has never thrown one. Greg Maddux has four Cy Young Awards but no no-hitters. Tom Glavine is on the cusp of 300 wins but hasn't pitched one. Steve Carlton never did.
Not having pitched a no-hitter does not diminish a great career. A no-hitter is one moment in a career - a special one - but one moment nonetheless. Surely, the Bud Smiths and Bobo Hollomans of the baseball world would have traded their no-hitters for long, successful, Cooperstown-worthy careers like those of Clemens, Maddux, Glavine and Carlton.
Pitching a no-hitter requires a nine-inning confluence of extraordinary performance and circumstance.
The pitcher usually has to have great, electric stuff, though even that doesn't guarantee a no-hitter. Witness the 20-strikeout games by Clemens (two of them) and Kerry Wood. None of them were no-hitters.
The pitcher usually needs to be supported by tremendous defense. Shortstop Juan Uribe made a big play behind Buehrle on Wednesday night. Outfielder Gerald Williams made two of them in supporting Doc Gooden's May 1996 no-hitter.
It also takes a little luck to pitch a no-hitter. Everything has to fall right for the pitcher. He has to get the right bounces and breaks. A no-hitter is not a lucky event by any means. Going through a major-league lineup three times without allowing a hit is exceedingly difficult, especially with experienced major-league hitters watching video of the pitcher between innings and making adjustments based on that. But a little luck has helped every pitcher who's ever pitched one. Dock Ellis admitted to being high while pitching a no-hitter. David Wells says he was still half drunk from a bender the night before when he pitched a perfect game.
Think they had a little luck going for them?
Surely, Buehrle had some Wednesday night against the Texas Rangers. But that's not to say his head, heart, left arm and defense didn't do the bulk of the work.
The no-hitter came at an opportune time for Buehrle, who turned 28 in March. He will be a free agent at season's end, and his age and winning pedigree will make him a hot commodity, provided he continues to pitch well. Buehrle's career compares favorably to that of another lefty, Barry Zito, who scored a seven-year, $126 million contract from the Giants in the off-season. Buehrle, who reportedly turned down a three-year, $35 million contract offer from the White Sox last summer, is a Missouri native and grew up a Cardinals fan. There's been scuttlebutt for more than a year that the Cardinals will make a run at him.
It wasn't long ago that Buehrle could have been had (at a steep price) in a trade. The White Sox went into last winter looking to trade a veteran starter as they tried to bring young pitching into their system. Buehrle was a candidate to be moved because he was a year away from free agency, and he struggled in the second half of last season, going 3-9 with a 7.17 ERA over his final 16 starts.
As it turned out, the White Sox opted to trade one of their other veteran starters who was a year away from free agency. That pitcher - Freddy Garcia - will be on the mound today for the Phillies.