A Club Of Chance

Curt Schilling has recorded more than 3,000 strikeouts, won more than 200 regular season games, started three of the most memorable postseason games of this decade, earned two World Series rings and shared one World Series MVP award. (FREE PREVIEW OF MAGAZINE CONTENT!)

It's a resume that needs no bolstering in order for Schilling to be considered one of the best pitchers of his era. But when he was one out away from completing a no-hitter against the Athletics in Oakland June 7, Schilling figured he was about to experience the one thing his career is missing: Standing at the mound with his arms raised heavenward as he waited to be swallowed up by teammates descending upon him in celebration.

But there would be no mad rush to the mound—not for another 86 days, anyway. Schilling's pursuit of history was broken up by Shannon Stewart, who hit a fastball past a diving Alex Cora. Schilling retired Mark Ellis on a pop-up two pitches later to preserve the Sox' 1-0 victory and said all the right things afterward about how satisfying it was to stop the Sox' season-high four-game losing streak.

Yet Schilling, the third Sox pitcher to have a no-hitter broken up with two outs in the ninth (see sidebars for more), also admitted how disappointed he was not to complete the no-hitter. "I'm more disappointed a couple weeks after than [he] was the day of, because it would have been cool," Schilling said in late July. "Because then [Justin] Verlander throws one not long after that [Verlander no-hit the Brewers June 14]. That's a pretty exciting thing. I've never been on the mound for the final out of anything like that—[even a] postseason game. I've never been on the mound in the ninth inning."

One hit. It's what makes equals out of Schilling, a potential Hall of Famer, and Billy Rohr, who won three games in the big league—including his debut, when he allowed only a two-out ninth inning single in leading the Sox past the Yankees at Yankee Stadium Apr. 14, 1967.

And it's the difference between Schilling plaintively admitting during the post-game interview that he'll wonder "what if" for the rest of his life and Clay Buchholz standing with his mouth agape and his eyes widened as he gazes around a euphoric Fenway Park after he no-hit the Orioles Sept. 1 and unable to muster anything other than "Wow."

The tales of Schilling and Buchholz serve as reminders that the no-hitter is as remarkable as it is random. Throwing a no-hitter allows a pitcher entry into an exclusive club—Buchholz' no-hitter was only the 255th since 1900—that has no bouncer checking ID or credentials at the door.

Buchholz had more no-hitters in his first two career starts than Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine—the active 300-game winners—had in 2,074 starts through Sept. 7. Mike Warren, who threw a no-hitter for the Athletics against the White Sox Sept. 29, 1983, and Bud Smith, who no-hit the Phillies for the Cardinals Sept. 3, 2001, combined to win 16 major league games. Clemens, Maddux and Glavine have won at least 16 games in a season 34 times.

Wilson Alvarez, the only other pitcher to throw a no-hitter in his second career start, didn't even record an out in his first big league start July 24, 1989—a mere 747 days before his second start.

Mark Buerhle allowed more hits between 2003 and 2006 (994) than any other American League pitcher, but he threw a no-hitter for the White Sox Apr. 18. "People didn't put me and a no-hitter together," Buerhle said. "It's kind of the farthest thing from [his mind] because I give up so many [hits]. I lead the league in hits allowed every year. And here I go nine innings and I don't allow one. So it doesn't really make sense to me."

The Marlins, who began play in 1993, have four no-hitters. The Mets, who began play in 1962 and have employed some of the greatest pitchers of the past four decades, have zero. But 10 ex-Mets have thrown no-hitters following their career in Queens, led, of course, by Nolan Ryan, who threw a record seven for the Angels, Astros and Rangers.

Even the one-hitter is symbolic of baseball's unpredictable nature and a reminder of the good fortune a pitcher needs to throw a no-hitter. Blue Jays hurler Dustin McGowan allowed only a leadoff single in the ninth inning against the Rockies June 24, a mere five days after he allowed six runs in 1 2/3 innings in his shortest start ever.

Gregg Zaun, who caught McGowan's near-gem, came even closer to catching a no-hitter while with the Marlins Apr. 10, 1997, when a fluke hit ruined Alex Fernandez' effort with one out in the ninth. "[The Cubs] pinch-hit Dave Hansen and [Hansen] hit a little ground ball up the middle that probably would have been caught," Zaun said. "But it hit Alex in the backside and ricocheted into a vacant hole at shortstop. It was a freak hit.

"Brutal."

Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, who threw 8 2/3 no-hit innings against the Tigers in his second career start Sept. 27, 1998 before he surrendered a Bobby Higginson home run, said he doesn't second-guess the pitch he made to Higginson because he wouldn't have been in that position without a few fortuitous breaks.

"And you don't ever second-guess those," he said. "[To] go back and second-guess a hit is tough to do. Sometimes you've just got to tip your cap."

Schilling, meanwhile, was one of the game's most dominant pitchers at the peak of his career, but it took until he was a 40-year-old craftsman to carry a no-hitter into the ninth inning. He has struck out 10 or more batters 93 times yet whiffed just four June 7.

"After that game, I realized how much luck is involved in one," Schilling said. "That's not to take away from the accomplishment, because it's neat. You have to do a lot of things right. But I didn't feel exceptional that day. I didn't think I threw exceptionally well.

"It wasn't a day where I was like ‘Oh my God, I've got unbelievable stuff.' I've gone out there—the game in San Diego, where I lost the no-hitter in the eighth, the perfect game [an eighth-inning bunt single by the Padres' Ben Davis broke up a perfect game by Schilling while he was pitching for the Diamondbacks May 26, 2001]—I felt like I had unbelievable stuff. I certainly didn't feel that way [against the Athletics]."

As notable as the no-hitter is, the one-hitter—particularly when the only hit occurs in the ninth inning—is as compelling and certainly more poignant. To experience the building anticipation of a no-hitter—yet not the no-hitter itself—is a particularly poetic form of heartbreak.

A pitcher who throws a no-hitter will forever be associated with the feat. A pitcher's one-hitter is usually relegated to the small font in his media guide biography.

"You want it to happen because it's something really special," Zaun said. "A guy, no matter what he does in his career before or afterward, he'll always be remembered as a guy who threw a no-hitter in the big leagues. So it's a big deal."

No one ever suffered quite like Dave Stieb, who had a no-hitter broken up with two outs in the ninth three times—including in consecutive starts in September 1988. But he finally experienced the sight of his teammates racing to the pitcher's mound to mob him Sept. 2, 1990, when he no-hit the Indians.

For now, Schilling will have to be content with joining the rush instead of inspiring it. As Schilling waited to greet Buchholz in the post-game scrum Sept. 1, Josh Beckett draped an arm around Buchholz' shoulders.

"A lot better than Curt Schilling did," Beckett yelled.

And a lot better than a lot of other pretty good pitchers, too.

"Some of these guys [have] got electric stuff, go out there and they win 300 games [or are] 20-game winners every year," Buerhle said. "Then they don't get no-hitters. It's not that they're not good enough, or guys that throw no-hitters are better.

"You just have to have everything landing the right way."


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE.

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