Hardy's outstanding homerless stretch ends
Left-hander had gone 84 2/3 innings before giving up solo blast to Napoli
DETROIT -- Former Tigers lefty Jamie Walker used to say every reliever gets five minutes of fame. Sometimes, maybe wrongly, a few of those minutes tick by in defeat. Blaine Hardy falls into that category.
When Mike Napoli's fly ball carried over Comerica Park's left-field fence in Sunday afternoon's 4-2 loss, it was a badly-needed insurance run for the Rangers to build a two-run lead toward taking three out of four from the Tigers. It was also the first time anybody had hit a ball over the fence off Hardy since June of last year.
Not since Astros catcher Jason Castro hit a walkoff shot against him at Minute Maid Park on June 27, 2014 had Hardy allowed a home run. He had made 87 appearances in between, pitched 84 2/3 innings, and allowed 76 hits that all stayed in the park, including 18 doubles and three triples.
"I didn't realize it was that many," Hardy said.
Everybody else in the Majors with at least 38 innings pitched this season had allowed a homer. The only other pitcher with at least 50 appearances this season and no homers allowed is Giants lefty Javier Lopez, and he entered Sunday with 31 2/3 innings pitched.
Likewise, only Lopez -- with 93 games -- had a longer active streak of homerless appearances. The next-longest streak by a reliever in terms of innings pitched is Brandon League at 71 1/3.
"It's a good streak," catcher James McCann said, "especially the amount that [Hardy] is used out of the bullpen, the hitters that he's facing. He's facing the best hitters in the game. So the fact that he's able to go that long -- it's unfortunate he gave it up in the situation that he did -- but you have to tip your cap to him. Eighty-five innings, that's a long time."
Hardy was two appearances away from tying Bernie Boland's Tigers mark for 89 homerless games, according to research on baseball-reference.com. Boland's streak lasted from 1915 to 1920, and covered 198 2/3 innings. Hardy already owned the team record for a left-hander.
"I remember my last home run," Hardy said. "Gave it up to Castro. Walkoff. That [stunk]."
It wasn't just that Castro's drive was Hardy's last home run allowed. In two Major League seasons, covering 92 innings and 93 appearances, Castro had Hardy's only home run. He has pitched everything from long relief to lefty specialist's work, even ninth-inning labor, and kept the ball in almost the entire time. That has been a source of pride for him.
"Absolutely," he said. "I like trying to keep the ball in the park, make them put two hits together instead of just one to get a run."
That explains partly how Hardy got here, from a minor-league depth signing two years ago to Detroit's primary left-hander -- and one of its most valuable relievers -- now. At the same time, it exacerbates the challenge, not just for the hitters he's facing, but for himself.
McCann has a locker next to Hardy in the home clubhouse. He sees the wear and tear Hardy goes through.
"Especially at this point in the season, a guy that's been used like him, there's not a day where there's not something on his body that's barking," McCann said, "whether it's the arm or whatever it may be. They've gotta find a way to be able to throw each and every day, and that's something not everyone can do."
Hardy had faced 115 different hitters this season and kept the ball in the park. He had not faced Napoli until Sunday.
"Napoli's got a lot of power," Hardy said. "I don't know how he generates as much power as he does when he takes those swings where he seems like he's just kind of reaching for it, but he gets good extension and hits the ball.
"It's my fault for making a mistake, left the changeup up. I felt like it was on the corner, off the plate and he was still able to get to it. So my hat's off to him for doing that."