What if one could bottle up the feeling of a no-hitter and just keep it going and going?
Every pitcher’s dream became an extraordinary reality for one pitcher more than a century ago. The pitcher’s name? Cy Young -- yeah, that guy. On this day 118 years ago, Young gave up his first base hit in over two weeks, snapping a streak of 24 consecutive hitless innings that, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, remains unchallenged as the Major League record.
You read that correctly: Young went 24 straight innings -- or nearly the span of three complete games -- without permitting a single base knock. Here’s how Elias breaks it down:
• On April 25, 1904, Young allowed his last hit to the leadoff batter in the sixth inning, and then did not allow a hit in the seventh and eighth frames of a 2-0 loss to Philadelphia, starting him off with two complete hitless innings.
• Five days later, Young came on for seven hitless innings of relief, earning a modern-day save (though it wasn’t called that at the time) in a 4-1 win over Washington.
• Five days after that, Young tormented Philadelphia again, this time twirling the first perfect game in American League history.
• And finally, on May 11, Young had no-hit stuff again until Detroit’s Sam Crawford finally reached on a seventh-inning double, snapping Young’s record streak at 24. How did Young react? Merely by shrugging that off and going 15 innings for a hard-fought 1-0 win. There’s a reason baseball’s highest pitching honor is named after him.
Across the administrations of 21 U.S. Presidents, two World Wars and countless changes in both baseball and our daily lives, Young’s streak of 24 still tops the list. Reds pitcher Johnny Vander Meer famously became the only man to pitch back-to-back no-hitters in June 1938, but even he fell shy of Young, ultimately settling at 21 hitless innings for the NL record.
While Young's achievement fell in the Dead Ball Era, few pitchers have even sniffed his record in recent history. Below, courtesy of Elias, are the closest attempts since the start of MLB’s Expansion Era beginning in 1961.
1) Dennis Eckersley, Cleveland: 21 consecutive hitless innings
Dates: May 25 - June 3, 1977
Eckersley’s most dominant years were still down the road in Oakland, but to the hitters who faced him in late May 1977, Eck was stifling enough as it was.
Cleveland’s third-year righty channeled Young and the pitchers of yesteryear in a 12-inning complete-game win over the Mariners on May 25, holding Seattle hitless for the last seven frames of the ballgame. Eckersley returned to the Cleveland Stadium mound on May 30 and spun a no-hitter against the Angels, allowing only two baserunners via a walk and a dropped third strike. In his follow-up four days later at the Kingdome, Eckersley was channeling Vander Meer and on pace for back-to-back no-nos until Seattle’s Ruppert Jones finally homered with two outs in the sixth inning. Eck’s stretch got the nation’s attention, and helped earn him his first All-Star Game invitation.
2-T) Max Scherzer, Nationals: 16 innings
Dates: June 14-26, 2015
Scherzer began staking his claim as baseball’s best pitcher in the summer of 2015 -- his first after signing a massive free-agent deal with the Washington Nationals. The right-hander authored a 16-strikeout one-hitter on the road at Miller Park on June 14, allowing the lone single to Carlos Gomez in the bottom of the seventh. Then he hurled his first career no-hitter in his next start against the Pirates, coming one hit batsman with two outs in the ninth away from a perfect game. Mad Max took another no-no bid into the sixth inning of his next start against the Phillies before Freddy Galvis doubled to finally end Scherzer’s run. At one point across those three games, Scherzer had retired 70 of 73 batters faced, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning of each contest.
"I wouldn't imagine that that's going to be the last opportunity that he's going to have to do something special,” said Nationals manager Matt Williams. That turned out to be extremely prescient, as Scherzer finished the season with a 17-strikeout no-hitter against the Mets.
2-T) Dwight Gooden, Yankees: 16 innings
Dates: May 8-14, 1996
Similar to Eckersley, Gooden’s streak came with the team that you might not expect. Twelve years after he enraptured the baseball world as a fire-balling phenom with the Mets, Gooden resurfaced after a full-season suspension with the crosstown Yankees. Doc’s comeback got off to a rough start with five or more earned runs allowed in each of his first three starts in pinstripes, but by mid-May, “Dr. K” was rolling. On May 8, Gooden earned his first win with eight innings of two-run ball against Detroit, holding the Tigers hitless across his last seven frames. Then came May 14, the day Gooden became the headline story again when he no-hit the Mariners on a memorable night at Yankee Stadium.
Gooden’s chase of Vander Meer and Young came to a quick end in his next start against Oakland, when A’s slugger Jason Giambi doubled with two outs in the first. But 1996 would be memorable for Gooden in more ways than one, as he and the Yankees climbed back atop the heap for the franchise’s first World Series title in 16 years.
2-T) Mike Scott, Astros: 16 innings
Dates: Sept. 20-Oct. 2, 1986
Scott finished his 13-year career with a precisely average era-adjusted 100 ERA+, but in the latter half of 1986, he might have been the most unhittable pitcher on the planet. Wielding a splitter so filthy that opponents began openly questioning its legality, Scott went on an absolute tear to close the regular season. He began by retiring the Padres in order to finish out a seven-inning win on Sept. 20, and then unleashed a 13-strikeout no-hitter against the Giants at the Astrodome to clinch the NL West division title for Houston.
"I can't ever remember a game with such importance that was so dominated by one person,” said Scott’s teammate, Nolan Ryan.
Scott then looked like he might no-hit those same Giants again on Oct. 2, carrying a perfect-game bid into the sixth and then finally surrendering a leadoff double to Will Clark in the seventh to break the streak. But Scott was far from finished, as he surrendered just one earned run across two stifling complete-game victories over the Mets in the 1986 NLCS.
2-T) Steve Busby, Royals: 16 innings
Dates: June 14-24, 1974
The list of pitchers who have thrown no-hitters in back-to-back seasons includes many stars with whom we’re all familiar -- Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Jake Arrieta, Tim Lincecum and Warren Spahn, for example -- along with a few lesser-known names. Busby belongs to the latter category, though he was certainly making himself known to Kansas City fans in 1974.
Busby had struck out 174 batters and twirled a no-hitter as a rookie with the Royals the year prior, finishing third in AL Rookie of the Year voting. He was off to a less spectacular start entering June of his second campaign, but seemed to flip the switch right around the start of this streak. Busby went the distance in a win on June 14 in Detroit, retiring his last eight batters. Then he put himself into the record books in Milwaukee by authoring his second no-no in a span of 14 months while surrendering just one walk to the Brewers.
Busby then retired the first nine White Sox batters he faced and carried another no-hit bid into the sixth on June 24, and went on to finish 1974 with a career-best 22-14 mark. He would pitch just one more complete season, and though he became the first pitcher to successfully return to the diamond following rotator cuff surgery, his career was never the same.
2-T) Nolan Ryan, Angels: 16 innings
Dates: July 15-19, 1973
Few pitchers have ever dominated a summer the way Nolan Ryan did in 1973, when he put up a pair of no-hitters and set the modern single-season strikeout record with 383. Ryan’s second no-no came on July 15 in Detroit, when he struck out 17 Tigers and was so terrifying that cleanup hitter Norm Cash came up to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with a table leg instead of a bat.
Ryan returned to the mound four days later and evidently wasn’t that tired, taking a no-hitter into the eighth against the Orioles and ultimately going 10 1/3 innings before handing the ball to Angels reliever Dave Sells -- who promptly allowed the game-winning runs. Across those two starts, Ryan allowed three hits and faced 70 batters, while punching out 30 of them.