CLEVELAND -- After being no-hit for the third time in 2021, the Indians have found themselves on the wrong side of baseball history.
Cleveland became the first team to ever be no-hit three times in a season after Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader combined to toss the Brewers’ first no-hitter since 1987. Burnes threw eight sparkling frames with a staggering 14 strikeouts on 115 pitches, leaving Hader to handle the last three outs in the Indians’ 3-0 loss on Saturday night at Progressive Field. Only a seventh-inning leadoff walk by Myles Straw stood between Milwaukee and a perfect game.
“I knew he was gonna be sharp,” Indians starter Zach Plesac said. “He’s been sharp all year. He pitched great. Each inning was quick, so by the time I was gathering the information from the previous half-inning on how I’m gonna attack the next group of hitters coming up the next half, it was like it was my time to get back out there.
“It was definitely a duel. Shout out to Corbin Burnes. He pitched a heck of a game, so kudos to him.”
The Indians have become all too familiar with this process. They were no-hit on April 14 by Carlos Rodón of the White Sox and on May 7 by Wade Miley of the Reds, becoming the 18th club to ever be no-hit twice in a season. This doesn’t include the fact that Cleveland also could not record a hit in the nightcap of a seven-inning doubleheader against the Rays on July 7 (which does not count as an official no-hitter).
But if there’s anyone more familiar with no-hitters this year, it’s Plesac, who was on the mound for Cleveland in all three games. Against the White Sox, Plesac lasted just two-thirds of an inning while giving up six runs, but against Miley and the Reds, his eight scoreless frames were squandered. This time, he held the red-hot Brewers to three runs (two earned) in six innings, but he ended up in the loss column once again.
“I don’t even know if that makes sense to me yet,” Plesac said. “I think it’s insane. I don’t know if it’s me or what’s going on, but it’s incredible.”
According to MLB.com’s Sarah Langs and the Elias Sports Bureau, Jim Perry was the only pitcher that ever had three starts when he was on the losing team of a no-hitter entering Saturday (Sept. 21, 1970, with Minnesota vs. Oakland; April 27, 1973, with Detroit vs. Kansas City; July 15, 1973, with Detroit vs. California). And even though the Cleveland offense is responsible for putting a crooked number in the hits column, Plesac can’t help but take some of the blame for this happening three times this year while he was on the rubber.
“I think it starts with me, coming out there in that first inning,” Plesac said. “If I put up a zero and gain us some momentum, I think we can roll the rest of this game with some confidence and willingness to go out there and put up hits. It definitely starts with me. That first inning, allowing them to put up two runs gave them all the momentum. I can do a better job of that.”
As much as Plesac wants to find a reason to believe that he could make a bigger difference in these situations, it comes down to the club’s offense, which couldn’t help but bite at everything Burnes was throwing. His five-pitch mix was the perfect weapon to take advantage of one of Cleveland’s biggest weaknesses: chasing pitches out of the zone.
Entering the game, the Indians boasted a 28.7% chase rate, which ranked higher than the 27.4% league average. Of Burnes’ 14 strikeouts, half ended with the Indians swinging on pitches out of the zone. Overall on the night, Burnes induced 26 whiffs, which was the most Cleveland had against a single pitcher this season by a landslide. The second most was 19 against both Rodón in his no-hitter and Logan Gilbert on June 13. Those 26 whiffs are also tied for the Indians’ most against a single hurler in the pitch-tracking era (Brandon Morrow, May 5, 2010).
Cleveland remains confident that it will bounce back into contention next year with a lot more payroll flexibility. But what the club has learned is that this offense can’t remain the same in 2022 if it wants to accomplish that goal. For now, acting manager DeMarlo Hale will use the last three weeks of the regular season to try to figure out who the best options -- especially offensively -- are for the organization moving forward.
“The good thing about no-hitters, it’s only one loss,” Hale said. “I know it’s been three times, but you deal with it, you move on. You understand the level of competition you’re playing against and you move on. ... I just know tomorrow, you come out here and make some adjustments, and win a ballgame.”