The conclusion of Max Scherzer’s near-perfect game Saturday sparked all sorts of thoughts in a short span of time (none of which would have been possible if not for Twitter alerting me to the fact that he was three outs away from perfection and ESPN was going to carry the finish live, thus providing one of the few things that could rouse me from my post-Grandma’s Marathon stillness).
Scherzer, of course, didn’t finish it off. He came one strike away before hitting Jose Tabata on the elbow with two outs and two strikes in the ninth, eventually “settling” for a no-hitter. The three takeaways from that day:
• The pitch that struck Tabata was controversial to some because he clearly made no effort to get out of the way and in fact looked as if he leaned into the pitch a little.
But while it’s a shame to see a perfect game end that way — and perhaps home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski could have interpreted the play differently — let’s not blame Tabata for anything because he did nothing wrong. “That’s my job,” he said afterward, which is the perfect truth.
Until the last out is recorded, a baseball game is a living thing. There is no dribbling until the clock runs out or kneeling down. Even though the score was 6-0 with two outs in the ninth, the Pirates had life. Tabata’s obligation was to try to win the game, not try to aid in history being made against his team.
• The broadcast showed herds of fans with their phones out when the perfect game was still alive, hoping to record history.
I’m guilty of not listening to my own advice on this, but here it goes anyway: You will remember you were there a lot more clearly if you are in the moment, paying attention to what is happening, rather than watching as you record it on your phone for posterity.
• And now the fun part of the discussion: Did Scherzer just pitch the two greatest back-to-back games in MLB history? His previous start before Saturday’s no-hitter was a one-hitter in which he struck out 16 and gave up only a broken-bat single in the seventh inning.
The obvious rebuttal to this is Johnny Vander Meer, who threw back-to-back no-hitters in 1938 for the Reds.
The raw numbers suggest Scherzer was more impressive, with a combined 26 strikeouts and only one hit, one walk and one hit batter over the last two games. His Game Score (a metric to measure the effectiveness of a pitcher’s start developed by Bill James) on Saturday was 97, while it was 100 in his previous start — the best back-to-back Game Scores in at least 100 years.
Vander Meer walked 11 and struck out 11 over the course of his two no-nos. His Game Scores were 88 and 86, respectively.
Now: One could argue that the ability to withstand pressure and finish off not one but two no-hitters trumps all. Or one could argue that giving up one measly hit in the midst of sheer dominance doesn’t diminish all-time greatness.
Either way, it’s a great debate.