7-inning no-no still worth celebrating

5 Rays pitchers combine to hold Indians hitless in nightcap

July 8th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- It wasn’t until the final two innings Wednesday afternoon that realized the Rays still hadn’t allowed a hit in the game he started. McHugh pitched his two perfect innings as an opener against Cleveland, figured one play initially ruled a hit in the third inning had remained as such and watched the rest of the game in the clubhouse with his fellow pitchers.

So McHugh said he was surprised when reliever , who recorded the last out of the fifth inning, pointed to a TV and observed, “I think it’s a no-hitter.”

“And I looked up and I was like, ‘I think it is, too,’” McHugh said.

The only official no-hitter in Rays history still belongs to Matt Garza, who went nine innings without allowing a hit against the Tigers on July 26, 2010. What five Rays pitchers accomplished in their 4-0 win over the Indians at Tropicana Field won’t be remembered quite the same way, but it won’t be forgotten any time soon, either.

McHugh, , Castillo, and pitched a combined seven-inning no-hitter to sweep Wednesday’s doubleheader, recording Tampa Bay’s fourth straight win but not going in the record books as part of an official no-hitter.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Major League Baseball’s official statistician, neither a team nor an individual pitcher will be credited with an official no-hitter in a scheduled seven-inning game of a doubleheader -- unless that game goes to extras. Per Elias, any game of fewer than nine innings in which a pitcher or pitchers do not allow a hit should be considered as a “notable achievement.”

This one was notable, all right, much like Madison Bumgarner’s solo seven-inning effort for the D-backs on April 25. It was just the second time in club history they haven’t allowed a hit in a game and the second time a team has not allowed a hit in a seven-inning game since MLB instituted modified doubleheader rules prior to the shortened 2020 season.

“That's tough to do. Seven innings, nine innings, it's very tough to do,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Mixing and matching, piecing it together, everybody that we asked obviously had really good stuff.”

The Rays did not react on the field as if they’d just completed a no-hitter. Fairbanks pumped his fist and shouted when right fielder Vidal Bruján made a leaping grab at the warning track for the final out, and the team lined up for postgame high-fives and handshakes. But there was no dogpile near the mound, no raucous celebration around the infield.

“I think that should be reserved for the starter that does it,” Fairbanks said. “Combined ones are cool, but it doesn't really have the same [feeling] as watching somebody dominate for nine innings.”

Apparently what took place in the Rays’ clubhouse was a different story, though.

“We celebrated like it was, so really, that's all that matters to us, is having a good time with it,” McHugh said.

The initial confusion over whether there was a no-hitter in progress was understandable. It wasn’t just about Elias’ definition of a no-hitter; it was about a hit disappearing from the scoreboard during the game.

Leading off the third against Fleming, Cleveland center fielder Oscar Mercado bounced a 1-2 changeup to the left side of the infield. Shortstop Taylor Walls appeared to have a clear play on the ball, but third baseman Wander Franco crashed into him while trying to make the play himself. Mercado reached on what was initially ruled an infield single, the Indians’ first hit.

“Whether he makes it or I make it, we both make that play 10 out of 10 times, so I don't think it should have been a hit,” Walls said. “I think it should have been an error all the way, and that's something that the pitcher shouldn't have to look back and regret.”

The official scorer at Tropicana Field agreed with Walls’ assessment. The hit came off the board while Rays catcher Francisco Mejía was batting in the bottom of the fourth, as Mercado’s grounder had been changed from a hit to an error on Franco. The ruling was changed citing Rule 9.12(a)(1): “The Official Scorer shall charge an error to a fielder who causes another fielder to misplay a ball.”

The Indians disagreed with the call, and manager Terry Francona suggested the Rays might “have to go back and un-celebrate” because the ruling could be changed upon an appeal or further review. Mercado said it was a hit in his mind, especially when Franco reached on an infield single on a similar play in the fifth inning.

“I don't see how it's not [a hit],” Mercado said. “I get they crashed into each other. I don't see the difference between that and two outfielders crashing into each other.”

That decision only took away one hit. The Rays’ defense took away several more.

Tampa Bay made four excellent defensive plays within a five-batter span after Franco ran into Walls. First, Austin Meadows slid to snag Austin Hedges' line drive. Then Walls made a spectacular sliding stop on Ernie Clement’s grounder and flipped the ball to second baseman Mike Brosseau, starting an inning-ending double play.

In the fourth, Franco was responsible for two gems. He robbed Cesar Hernandez of a leadoff hit with a sliding stop, a spin and an on-target toss to first baseman Yandy Díaz. Then he took one away from José Ramírez, his friend and workout partner, by snagging a chopper that carried him into foul territory and making a strong throw across the infield.

“Wander and Wallsy put on a defensive clinic today,” Cash said.

Fleming recorded the first two outs of the fifth before walking pinch-hitter Owen Miller, at which point manager Kevin Cash summoned the high-leverage righty Castillo to finish the inning. Wisler worked around a two-out walk in the sixth, then Fairbanks worked a clean seventh. Overall, the Rays struck out eight and walked two and, when combined with their Game 1 victory, finished the day with nine consecutive hitless innings.

No-hitter or not, they had plenty to celebrate at the end of a long day.

“We haven't been playing up to the capability that we should be. It's good to finally get some wins back,” Walls said. “Everybody starts pitching in a little bit, and hopefully we can keep it rolling into the All-Star break.”