Long MLB no-hitter drought ends

Long MLB no-hitter drought ends

When Washington's Ramon Ortiz lost his no-hitter in the top of the ninth inning Monday against St. Louis, everyone wondered if Major League Baseball was one step closer to what is nearing the longest drought of no-nos in modern history.

They needn't wonder anymore.

Florida Marlins rookie Anibal Sanchez, making only his 14th Major League appearance, ended the second-longest drought in modern MLB history with a 2-0 no-hitter against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The feat leaves the period from 1931-34 as the longest in terms of total MLB game days.

According to Elias, the period between Randy Johnson's perfect game for Arizona at Atlanta on May 18, 2004, and Sanchez's gem Wednesday was the longest no-hitter drought in history using number of games as the measuring stick.

There had been 6,364 games without a no-no between Johnson's perfect game and Wednesday, though that does not count other games played today. The previous high was 4,015 games, between Mike Witt's perfect game on Sept. 9, 1984, and and Joe Cowley's no-hitter two years later, on Sept. 9, 1986.

No one had thrown a no-hitter in the Majors since Johnson, and MLB was on the brink of going two consecutive seasons without one for only the third time since before the late 1800s. The drought had surpassed the one during World War II, in terms of game days without one on the MLB schedule.

The now-ended drought lasted 470 days, if one includes the 135 days following Johnson's gem and the 2004 regular-season finale -- 180 total MLB game days in the 2005 regular season, and 155 total MLB game days so far this season.

The only longer such drought in terms of days in modern history was between Bobby Burke's 5-0 victory for the Washington Senators over the Boston Braves on Aug. 8, 1931, and Paul Dean's 3-0 no-hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals over the Brooklyn Dodgers on Sept. 21, 1934.

That one lasted 538 MLB game days without a no-hitter. It excludes any days in which no Major League Baseball was played, as well as any All-Star hiatus, which became a tradition during that drought, in 1933. That drought only would be reduced to 535 game days if one included Bobo Newsom's no-hitter for the St. Louis Browns, which was broken up in the 10th and is no longer recognized as an official no-no due to MLB rule changes adopted in the 1990s.

Perhaps the most remarkable statistic is the black-and-white disparity between the last decade and this one. Major League Baseball fans saw 37 no-hitters in the 1990s (take away a couple that were broken up in the 10th and Melido Perez's that was called after six innings), but only eight so far in the 2000s. Nolan Ryan threw seven all by himself. American League fans haven't seen one since way back on April 27, 2002, by Derek Lowe for Boston against visiting Tampa Bay. It's almost unthinkable that we are on the brink of celebrating the fifth anniversary of the last AL no-no.

Where has the no-hitter gone?

Earlier this season, the MLB-wide drought officially became the longest since World War II in terms of calendar time between no-hitters, but the more relevant statistic is MLB game days between them -- actual opportunities to witness a no-hitter. It is now far longer than the spell between the no-hitters thrown by Lon Warneke for the Cardinals at Cincinnati on Aug. 30, 1941, and Jim Tobin's gem for the Boston Braves at home against Brooklyn on April 27, 1944.

There are two ways to look at this: (a) It just makes a no-hitter even more precious for the next fans who get to see one, and (b) it's kind of a drag, because fans like to see them.

"How do you prepare for this?" Lowe said after the last AL no-no. "You really can't, unless you're there and feel the emotion of what it's like to be that close."

Even "close" is uncommon now, because Ortiz became only the first player this entire season to take one into the ninth. There have been a handful that have piqued our interest, though, such as:

• April 19: Javier Vazquez, pitching for the White Sox, loses a no-hitter with one out in the seventh on Doug Mientkiewicz' check-swing single.
• May 7: Johan Santana of the Twins loses his no-hitter on Ivan Rodriguez's seeing-eye single with no outs in the eighth.
• May 30: Chris Young of the Padres throws seven hitless innings, but Colorado's Brad Hawpe breaks it up.
• June 5: Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs throws 7 1/3 hitless innings, but Houston's Preston Wilson singles.
• June 19: Matt Cain of the Giants makes it through 7 2/3, but Chone Figgins of the Angels singles.
• Aug. 25: Barry Zito of Oakland gets through seven, but Mark DeRosa of Texas singles.

No-hitters are supposed to be rare. That's what makes them so spectacular when fans witness them. But not this rare. The Majors have averaged slightly fewer than two no-hitters per season in the modern era.

Two full seasons without one? That's just odd.

On June 29, 1990, two no-hitters were thrown on the same day, the first time it ever happened. Dave Stewart no-hit Toronto early in the evening, and then Fernando Valenzuela did it hours later for the Dodgers against the Cardinals.

Remember 1991? Those were the days of no-no madness. Ryan did it for the Rangers, Tommy Greene did it for the Phils, four Orioles combined for one, two Expos combined for one that was broken up in the 10th, Dennis Martinez was perfect for the Expos, Wilson Alvarez did it for the White Sox, Bret Saberhagen did it for the Royals, and three Braves combined for one in that breakthrough season. That's eight in one year, or seven if you aren't counting those broken up after regulation.

The Major League rule regarding no-hitters was changed in 1993, discounting no-nos broken up in extra innings, as well as those shorter than nine innings. It doesn't change the fact that a remarkable shutdown has happened in the no-hitter department.

How has Roger Clemens not thrown one in his career? Is that one final career achievement to help end the drought?

So what are the theories for the big drought?

• Much of this decade has been viewed as a power-hitting era, and all it took was one misplaced pitch to find the outfield seats.
• There are fewer pitchers' parks with the widespread movement toward retro-traditional stadiums. See: Citizens Bank Park.
• The wind was blowing out too often at Wrigley.
• Ichiro.
• No-hitters rub off on other pitchers who have one going, removing some of the pressure of doing something that seems undoable.
• Starting pitchers aren't as good as they were in the 1990s.
• The six-inning mindset means all you care about is bridging to the setup man and him to the closer, and someone will buckle.
• A recent trend back to small ball means more hit-and-run executions, and greater chance for a grounder to get through a hole left by the infielder and advance a runner who had walked -- breaking up a no-hitter.
• It's just baseball.

The last theory probably is the best. Baseball trends just happen. One year there are seven no-hitters through nine innings, and one decade there are seven no-hitters through nine innings. All of a sudden, a no-hitter is not only a priceless rarity, but so rare that baseball was closing in on the modern Major League record for life without one.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Don Larsen's perfect game in the World Series. It remains the only such occurrence. Now just an "ordinary" no-hitter would seem almost as big.

Just ask Anibal Sanchez.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.