July 1, 1990: Andy Hawkins is somehow the starting pitcher for the New York Yankees. He’d been fired a month ago, only to find reprieve in an injury to Mike Witt. Despite pitching well in June, his ERA still floats at 6.49, his record at 1-4.
A different man took the hill that day. After five innings, neither he nor his opponent Greg Hibbard has allowed a hit, and after each third out Hawkins wandered back to the dugout, his jaw aimlessly working a wad of gum, his eyes dull. By the bottom of the eighth, the game still scoreless, Hawkins had conjured two infield pop-ups. Then, the fates cut the string:
|Score||Outs||Base State||Pitches||Batter||WPA||Win Odds||Event|
|0-0||2||—||4,(1-2)||S. Sosa||2%||55%||Reached on E5 (Ground Ball)|
|0-0||2||1–||5,(2-2)||O. Guillen||3%||58%||Sosa Steals 2B|
|0-0||2||12-||4,(3-0)||L. Johnson||4%||63%||Walk; Sosa to 3B; Guillen to 2B|
|0-0||2||123||1,(0-0)||R. Ventura||34%||97%||Reached on E7 (Fly Ball); Sosa Scores/No RBI/unER; Guillen Scores/unER/No RBI; Johnson Scores/unER/No RBI; Ventura to 2B|
|3-0||2||-2-||5,(1-2)||I. Calderon||2%||99%||Reached on E9 (Fly Ball to Deep CF-RF); Ventura Scores/unER; Calderon to 2B|
He got a third infield fly, snapped out of the air by a frustrated Alvaro Espinosa, but it was inconsequential. The Yankees went down in order in the ninth, and Hawkins became infamous for losing a no-hitter 4-0. (He followed this by pitching 11.2 innings in his next start, and losing that one as well. Hawkins.)
Then he lost the no-hitter another way. The following year, the almost certainly communist Committee for Statistical Accuracy dictated that all no-hitters must be nine innings or longer. No more cheap five-inning rainouts, and no more Hawkins Specials. It proved a timely decision: mere months later, fellow grim-faced has-been Matt Young went eight hitless in early April, losing 2-1. Hawkins at least received temporary distinction for his accomplishment, which still pervades despite the ruling. MLB’s own video highlight of the game calls it a no-hitter. Young, coming to the party too late, didn’t even get a video.
We can’t save Hawkins or Young. But we can make the world a better place for the next guy.
The guideline for no-hitters isn’t in the actual rulebook, but instead stands at the top of MLB’s miscellaneous rules page on its website. This rule is perfectly fair and I wouldn’t change it; I think we all agree we don’t want rain-shortened no-hitters to stand among their more impressive cousins. Instead, it’s Rule 4.10(a) that needs revising, one of the most basic tenets in the entire book. It’s the rule that states how long a game is. The definitive text:
A regulation game consists of nine innings, unless extended because of a tie score, or shortened (1) because the home team needs none of its half of the ninth inning or only a fraction of it, or (2) because the umpire-in-chief calls the game.
The visiting team should be able to decide, under circumstances of important individual importance, to play out that final half-inning (with the umpire’s approval), score be damned. Trimming the ninth is designed to avoid the tedium of playing out a definitive contest, and that’s understandable. But baseball games are relatively unimportant in general – the summer is teeming with them – while certain accomplishments are worth spending an extra twenty minutes to see.
Not only did Hawkins and Young deserve a chance to prove themselves over that last inning, but there are milestone implications as well. What if a batter were to hit four home runs in a game, only to be denied a chance at everlasting fame because his own team played too well? What if a player, in the final game of his final season, needed a single single to reach that magic 3,000 plateau? It seems mean to deny these chances at happiness for the sake of a bureaucratic consistency.
Baseball has shown no hesitance, with its Wild Cards and its Wilder Cards and its Super Important All-Star game, to inject as much drama as will fit into the game without bursting. This proposal is just a way to squeeze a tiny bit more in. Think about it, Mr. Selig. Make this your Midnight Judges Act. I know you’ll do the right thing.
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