SEATTLE -- In case you were wondering, Astros pitcher Zack Greinke thinks no-hitters are still a hassle. He nearly found out how much of a hassle Wednesday night.
In a season full of magical moments and landmark individual accomplishments for the Astros, Greinke nearly snuck in one more in his final regular-season start when he carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning and lost it on a one-out single by Austin Nola in a 3-0 win over the Mariners at T-Mobile Field.
“I thought it was looking like a pretty decent chance,” Greinke said, “especially the last inning.”
Earlier this season, while he was still with Arizona, Greinke carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Nationals before allowing a Trea Turner infield single. After the game, Greinke said throwing a no-hitter would “probably be more of a hassle than anything. A bunch of nonsense comes with it. I don’t think about no-hitters, ever.”
Coming within two outs of his first career no-hitter didn’t change his mind much.
“I mean, there's some hassle to it, but I think I would've liked to have done it,” he said.
The win pushed the Astros to 50 games over .500 (104-54) and broke the franchise record for wins in a season set last year. They also improved to 18-1 against the Mariners, including 13 wins in a row. With Gerrit Cole and Greinke dominating, Seattle didn’t have a runner reach third base in the two-game sweep against Houston.
“It was art,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s out there just dealing and drawing it up the way he wants to. It’s frustrating when he’s on his game like that, because you really have to be disciplined at the plate. One of the things he’s really good at is when he gets ahead in the count, the balls are just off the edge and they look like strikes. Coming in after Cole, it’s totally different styles.”
The record-breaking win for Houston meant another chance to celebrate the latest achievement by baseball’s winningest team with a champagne toast.
“We want to have a moment and recognize the type of season that we've had, franchise record number of wins,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “We have a chance to beat our own record the next few games. Just a great accomplishment as a team -- a lot of players, a lot of coaches. Front office putting the team together. Everybody should be very proud of this team, and our season is really just beginning with the postseason very close.”
Greinke had faced the minimum through eight innings and retired Tom Murphy on a grounder to start the ninth. With anticipation building, Nola -- who came into the game in the eighth inning to play second base -- hit a 3-2 curveball into left-center field for a single to break an 0-for-16 slump. Hinch pulled Greinke after 108 pitches following a single by Tim Lopes.
“He was incredible,” Hinch said. “From the very beginning of the game, you could see he had his stuff. He was in command of a lot of different things and he was making his pitches and getting quick outs. I think all of us thought he was going to get it at the end, the way he was going about it. He had plenty left in the tank. A guy who doesn't even start comes in and gets the hit, so that's the only unfortunate part of the entire night. He was just tremendous.”
Nola’s liner looked like a hit off the bat, but Jake Marisnick, an elite defender in center field, made a valiant attempt with a long run to dive for the ball. He fell a few feet short.
“He gave it a great effort, for sure,” Greinke said.
Greinke (18-5) struck out nine batters, walked one and allowed two singles in 8 1/3 innings. He mixed his pitches brilliantly, ranging from a 92.4 mph fastball to a 63.6 mph eephus pitch he used to strike out Kyle Seager to end the seventh.
“I felt good out there and then the last couple innings,” Greinke said. “I might not have been as sharp. They were starting to hit the ball harder and we had the players positioned properly to help out. I just gave up some hits to the last couple guys.”
Greinke retired the first 16 batters he faced before walking Dee Gordon with one out in the sixth, but he promptly got Lopes to line into a double play back to the pitcher. A five-time Gold Glove Award winner, Greinke fielded another line drive in the eighth off the bat of Omar Narvaez that was hit right back at his head.
“In the eighth, when Narvaez hit that line drive to him, I said, ‘You know what? We’re going to throw a no-hitter today,’” catcher Robinson Chirinos said. “I think we did everything right there. The guy who got the hit was on the bench [for] seven innings and came in the game and got a hit. That’s part of the game, but it unbelievable to be behind the plate.”
The performances by the Astros’ starting pitchers this season have been remarkable. Justin Verlander, who threw a no-hitter on Sept. 1, has 20 wins and can reach 3,000 strikeouts for his career and 300 for the season in his final start of the regular season on Saturday. Cole set the franchise record for single-season strikeouts (316) by shutting down the Mariners on Tuesday and is going for his 20th win Sunday.
“I wouldn't say the staff is the best staff I've been on, but [Verlander and Cole] are the two best as a combined, the two best I've played with,” Greinke said. “As an overall staff, when you have to include me in it, maybe I've been on better staffs.”
With Verlander and Cole having historically great seasons and Greinke coming off a near no-hitter, the Astros will hit the playoffs with one of the most accomplished starting rotations in recent memory. Greinke would likely start Game 3 of the American League Division Series, so his next start wouldn’t come for 11 days.
“If he just takes the feel that he tonight, put it on ice, you'll see him in about two weeks,” Hinch said.