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Postseason no-hitters and close calls

October 12, 2019

There’s no greater challenge, or opportunity, for a starting pitcher than taking the ball in October, and there are some nights where everything aligns. MLB history has seen more than 3,000 postseason starts, but only a few pitchers have even crossed the seven-inning threshold with a no-hitter bid. And, of

There’s no greater challenge, or opportunity, for a starting pitcher than taking the ball in October, and there are some nights where everything aligns. MLB history has seen more than 3,000 postseason starts, but only a few pitchers have even crossed the seven-inning threshold with a no-hitter bid. And, of course, only two men have ever finished a postseason game having kept the ‘H’ column at zero on the scoreboard.

Below, in reverse chronological order, is a look at those two historic performances, along with the closest solo no-hitter calls outside of those two completed no-nos in postseason history, per the Elias Sports Bureau. Nationals starter Aníbal Sánchez is the latest to join this list after taking his bid deep into the eighth inning in the 2019 National League Championship Series Game 1 against the Cardinals, and Max Scherzer came close to matching his teammate with a six-inning no-hit bid in Game 2.

POSTSEASON NO-HITTERS

Roy Halladay, Phillies: 2010 NLDS Game 1, No-hitter

Halladay had thrown a perfect game earlier that year, already a rare achievement, but this was his career’s crowning achievement, the highlight to run back over and over again. It wasn’t just the second no-hitter in postseason history, in the 1,262nd game in postseason history. It wasn’t just a second no-hitter for Halladay in a single season and postseason combined. It wasn’t just that it was his first career postseason game. It was how long he had waited for that moment -- debuting as a 21-year-old in 1998 for the Blue Jays, he finally got a chance to pitch a postseason game as a 33-year-old for the Phillies. Thus, it stands to reason that he made it count. Halladay got Brandon Phillips, Orlando Cabrera and Joey Votto in order in the first, and he was off. In fact, he was a Jay Bruce fifth-inning walk from perfection.

The Phillies would go on to sweep the series, en route to an NLCS appearance.

Don Larsen, Yankees: 1956 World Series Game 5, Perfect game

No game in the first 53 years of postseason history had seen a pitcher take a bid all the way … until Larsen etched his name in baseball annals forever with a magical afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Still the only perfect game in October, Larsen’s gem came after he lost Game 1 of the 1955 World Series to the Dodgers, and then lasted just 1 2/3 innings while allowing four runs to Brooklyn in Game 2 in ‘56. Three days later, Yankees manager Casey Stengel gave Larsen the ball again with the series tied at two, and he pitched the game of his life on short rest.

"I had great control,” Larsen would later recall, “I never had that kind of control in my life."

The closest the Dodgers came to getting baserunners came in the second inning, when Jackie Robinson’s liner caromed off the third baseman’s glove and right to shortstop Gil McDougald, who threw the speedy Robinson out by a step, and in the fifth when Mickey Mantle tracked down a deep fly ball by Gil Hodges in center field. Larsen took it from there, striking out pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell for out No. 27 in the ninth. The right-hander needed just 97 pitches to make history, catching the leaping catcher Yogi Berra in his arms in one of baseball’s iconic moments.

CLOSE CALLS

Aníbal Sánchez, Nationals: 2019 NLCS Game 1, 7 2/3 innings

Sánchez became the first pitcher in MLB history to pitch six or more innings while allowing one or fewer hits in two different postseason games, also doing so while with the Tigers in Game 1 of the 2013 ALCS against the Red Sox, when he threw six no-hit innings, walking six and striking out 12 before being taken out of the game after throwing 116 pitches. In the ‘19 NLCS Game 1, it was pinch-hitter Jose Martinez who broke up the no-hit bid with a soft single into center field with two outs in the eighth inning.

Michael Wacha, Cardinals: 2013 NLDS Game 4, 7 1/3 innings

Making his postseason debut in just his 16th career start, a 22-year-old Wacha dazzled against Charlie Morton and the Pirates -- and with the Cards’ season hanging in the balance. St. Louis had fallen behind in the series and faced elimination when Wacha took the hill in Game 4 against its NL Central rivals. Wacha, pitching with just two runs of support that came in the sixth, punched out nine and walked two before surrendering his first hit -- a solo homer to Pedro Alvarez with one out in the eighth. Thankfully for the Cards, it wound up being the Bucs’ only hit, as the St. Louis ‘pen held on for the win to force a Game 5, in which the Redbirds cruised en route to winning the NL pennant.

Jim Lonborg, Red Sox: 1967 World Series Game 2, 7 2/3 innings

Lonborg helped the Sox even the series after Bob Gibson’s gem in Game 1 by retiring all but two of the 29 batters he faced in a complete-game shutout. That year’s AL Cy Young Award winner retired each of the first 19 he faced before giving up a walk to Curt Flood, and he saw his no-hit bid broken up with a double by Julian Javier to deep left field that sent the Fenway Park field into a gasp. Lonborg and the Red Sox shut out the Cardinals, but St. Louis ultimately won the series in seven.

Bill Bevens, Yankees: 1947 World Series Game 4, 8 2/3 innings

Bevens went just 7-13 during the 1947 regular season, and Game 4 would prove to be the second-to-last Major League outing of his career (he appeared in relief in the Yankees’ decisive Game 7 victory). But Bevens was “effectively wild” for the bulk of one afternoon at Ebbets Field, walking a pair of Dodgers in the first inning, another in the second, another in the third and two more in the fifth -- one of which came home to score on a fielder’s choice. In fact, Bevens walked 10 batters by the middle of the ninth inning, but still hadn’t allowed a single Brooklyn hit.

Unfortunately for Bevens, the Yankees’ offense only put together two runs, not leaving their starter much room for error. His last walks came back to hurt him: Al Ginofriddo pinch-ran for Carl Furillo and stole second, and then Bevens intentionally walked Pete Reiser. That put two men on for Cookie Lavagetto, who hit a walk-off, two-run double for the Dodgers’ first and only hit of their strange, 3-2 victory.

Red Ruffing, Yankees: 1942 World Series Game 1, 7 2/3 innings

Ruffing’s final box score line (four earned runs over 8 2/3 innings) didn’t tell the story of how stifling he was for much of this afternoon. The future Hall of Famer worked around a pair of walks in the bottom of the first, and another in the third before retiring 10 straight Cardinals. He walked two more batters in the sixth, but stranded them both. Ruffing took his bid deep into the eighth before Cardinals center fielder Terry Moore broke through with a two-out single.

Marty Marion hit a two-run triple off Ruffing in the bottom of the ninth to begin a Redbirds rally, but the Yankees’ 7-0 lead entering that bottom half was enough cushion in a Game 1 victory.

Monte Pearson, Yankees: 1939 World Series Game 2, 7 1/3 innings

In the end, it was a two-hit shutout of the Reds at Yankee Stadium for Pearson, but until Cincinnati’s Ernie Lombardi singled to center with one out in the eighth inning, it was shaping up to be something even bigger. Lombardi had never faced Pearson in his career prior to that start -- given the nonexistence of Interleague Play -- and had hit a fly ball and then a groundout in his first two plate appearances, respectively. But with one out in the eighth, he ended the bid for Pearson, though Pearson got Harry Craft to strike out and Wally Berger to ground out and keep the shutout intact.

Pearson walked one and struck out eight in a complete effort to help the Yankees win, 4-0, en route to a World Series sweep.

Burleigh Grimes, Cardinals: 1931 World Series Game 3, 7 innings

Not only was Grimes cruising through seven innings, but he’d knocked in two runs off A’s starter Lefty Grove, too, with a fourth-inning single. Entering the eighth, he had walked two batters but had yet to yield a hit. The eighth began with a walk to Jimmie Foxx, the third Grimes had issued in the game. Bing Miller, the next batter, followed with a single. It was the 10th time in Miller’s career that he’d faced Grimes -- with all of those plate appearances coming in the postseason. The single to break up the no-no was the first time Miller actually got a hit off Grimes. Grimes then induced three more outs to keep the A’s at bay in the inning.

Grimes lost his shutout on a two-out, two-run homer by Al Simmons, but the Cardinals won the third game, 5-2, and went on to win the World Series in seven games.

Herb Pennock, Yankees: 1927 World Series Game 3, 7 1/3 innings

As if the Yankees “Murderers’ Row” lineup wasn’t enough to deal with, the Pirates’ offense couldn’t touch Pennock, who carried a perfect game into the eighth before future Hall of Famer Pie Traynor knocked a one-out single to left in the eighth. New York already held an eight-run lead at that point, and the Yankee Stadium crowd was still buzzing from Babe Ruth’s three-run homer in the previous half-inning. Clyde Barnhart drove in Traynor with an RBI double in the next at-bat, but Pennock cruised from there, working around Lloyd Waner’s single in the ninth to seal up an easy 8-1 win. The pinstripes finished off the sweep the next day.