On dominant pitching performances.

The other night, Francisco Liriano threw a no-hitter, the first one of the season.

Now, it wasn’t a particularly good no-hitter, as no-hitters go… Six walks to only two strikeouts. He wasn’t setting ’em up and knocking ’em down. Still, a no-hitter is a no-hitter, and when Tim Hudson followed it up with a one-hitter last night I started thinking about how I feel about really strong pitching performances, ones where the pitcher is absolutely on his game and the hitters don’t stand a chance against him.

On the one hand, I am simultaneously fascinated and terrified of no-hitters. The latter is easily explained: The first no-hitter I ever saw was Randy Johnson’s perfect game against my very own Braves. That game (coming as it did the very next game after Ben Sheet’s 18-strikeout game against the Braves) was the absolute low point of my Braves fandom if you measure it in days rather than months or seasons. For years afterwards, whenever the Braves went three innings without getting a hit I’d panic and think “This is it, it’s going to happen again.” Of course it didn’t, they’d eventually get a hit and score and maybe even win, and all would be forgotten. Then, just as I was starting to get over this, an absurdly hot Ubaldo Jimenez went and did it again.

Make no mistake, as a fan, seeing your team get no-hit is the worst feeling in the world. I wouldn’t wish it on the fans of any team not located in New York or Philadelphia. It’s absolute futility, almost painful to see… And the worst part is after it’s over, when a baseball-watching nation celebrates the opposing pitcher’s achievement at your expense. That’s pretty irrational, of course — everyone remembers that a guy threw a no-hitter, but unless it was really famous or notable (like Roy Halladay’s in the playoffs last year), few remember who it was against. Still, though, I usually quietly root for no-nos to be broken up. A one-hitter might be just as dominant, but it’s gone tomorrow. No-hitters live in infamy forever.

(No doubt I’d be changing my tune in a hurry if it was Cyborg Tommy Hanson or Julio Teheran going for one, heh.)

A one-hitter, though… That’s different. My distaste for no-hitters is paradoxical because I really do enjoy watching strong pitching performances. Even though I’m a strong proponent of a good offensive game, there’s nothing that quite matches seeing a good pitcher, on his game, just carving up the opposing hitters. The showdown between the hitter and pitcher is the very core of the game, and watching a master work is a real pleasure, whether he’s blowing them away with high heat, outwitting them with perfectly-located pitches, or throwing mind-bending breaking stuff that’s so nasty you can’t do anything but wince and whistle.

As with most things, great pitching performances have to be appreciated in moderation… I like them once in a while, but if every game had one, I’d stop watching. I do like the back-and-forth of a game where competent hitters do their thing, and the lead changes several times. That’s the joy of baseball, in one sense — there’s no platonic ideal of a “good game”. You could propose any generic game shape and I’d still say that I don’t want it every time, or even the majority of the time. There’s room enough in baseball for both 2-1 pitchers’ duels and a 9-7 slugfest ending in a walkoff homer. And the game’s better for it, I think.


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