Behind the plate for both no-nos, Hanigan sensed history repeating
CINCINNATI -- It seemed like yesterday that the Reds were on the field watching starting pitcher Homer Bailey put the finishing touches on his first no-hitter.
It was only about nine months ago, on Sept. 28, 2012, when Bailey threw his no-no in a 1-0 win at Pittsburgh. Now he's done it again. No-hitter No. 2 came during Tuesday's 3-0 victory over the Giants at Great American Ball Park.
"It was no less awesome, I can tell you that," Reds right fielder Jay Bruce said. "It's special every time. Even to be able to watch one at the stadium is awesome as a fan, much less to be part of two as a player. I'll never forget it. From the same person, no less. It's pretty awesome."
It was also Bailey who provided the last no-hitter in the Majors. He became the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1974-75 to throw two no-hitters without another big league pitcher doing so in between.
Like Ryan, Bailey was dealing some heat up to the end. His last four pitches of the 109 he threw vs. San Francisco were 97-mph fastballs.
"I was like, 'Wow, Homer.' He let his inner-Batman out today," said second baseman Brandon Phillips, perhaps referencing Bailey's resemblance to "Dark Knight" actor Christian Bale. "It was just amazing seeing the way he pitched today."
Phillips caught a popup to end Bailey's first no-hitter, while Todd Frazier fielded the final out on a grounder to third base by Gregor Blanco to cap No. 2. That was one of a few differences in the anatomy of the no-hitters, but there were some consistent aspects, especially from catcher Ryan Hanigan's point of view behind the plate.
Hanigan caught both of Bailey's history-making games.
"It was actually a very similarly pitched game," Hanigan said. "I feel like early in the game I wanted to get quality strike one and then expand a little bit with a slider and then elevate. That was kind of our plan for the most part, depending on who was hitting. As the game goes on, he gets stronger a lot of the time, especially with his fastball. I just wanted him to try to see if they could get on top of 95-plus, 97-plus [mph]. If they can do that, they deserve to get hits.
"But if he can hit the top of the zone with his fastball and guys are looking to cheat a little bit, that makes the slider that much tougher to get to. Probably the last two innings, we weren't trying to fool anybody. Before that, he was going in, he was going out, down, back foot, he was doing it all. I think he was a step ahead and executing the whole night. When you put those two together, guys can cheat for the pitch their looking for, and when he's executing, you can pull out something like this."
Bailey's night began in seemingly routine fashion, as he retired the side in order. His first batter was also Blanco, and he was throwing between 92-93 mph through the top of the first.
"He gets stronger through the game," Bruce said. "He established the plate so well tonight. You have to give credit to Ryan Hanigan too. Those guys were just clicking tonight."
As Bailey got through the sixth inning with a perfect game, the crowd of 27,509 fans was sensing the moment. There hasn't been a no-hitter thrown in Cincinnati since Tom Browning threw his perfect game on Sept. 16, 1988, at Riverfront Stadium.
"I didn't really know what was going on for a minute, until I saw the crowd going all crazy," Phillips said. "I haven't seen our ballpark like that in a while. I was like, 'What was going on? We're only winning 1-0.' Then I finally realized what was going on. I was just like, 'Wow, he's got a perfect [game] going on.' I looked at everybody in the dugout. Everybody was just acting normal. Homer wasn't in the dugout or anything. He was down there doing his little walk around like he normally does and just staying focused."
Bailey lost his perfect game in the seventh, when Blanco drew a leadoff walk on a full-count pitch. Manager Dusty Baker agreed with the call by home-plate umpire Adrian Johnson.
"Clearly it was a ball, inside," Baker said. "Then you work on the no-hitter. Then you work on the one-hitter if you give it up. Then you work on the victory. A lot of times you've seen guys give up that no-hitter, and the next thing you know, they're down for three or four hits and a couple of runs."
That didn't happen, as Bailey is now responsible for the 15th and 16th no-hitters in Reds history. After the walk, Hanigan visited the mound to talk with Bailey.
"His fastball starts to run when he doesn't get extension, and I didn't like that. I wanted it to be more true," Hanigan said. "He said 'I'm all right,' and I said 'I know you are, but just get some more extension.' I just wanted the ball to be truer so it didn't run middle."
A first-round pick of the Reds in 2004, Bailey debuted in the Majors in 2007 and went through several up-and-down seasons. In 2008, he was 0-6 with a 7.93 ERA. He spent most of that season at Triple-A Louisville. Each season since -- and despite some injuries in both 2008 and 2010 -- he's gradually improved.
In 2012, Bailey was 13-10 with a 3.68 ERA in a career-high 33 starts. He threw over 200 innings in the Majors for the first time, reaching 208. The second-to-last start of the regular season was his no-hitter.
"A couple of years ago, everybody was talking about 'Homer the hard head,'" Baker said. "I always said that hard-headedness is what will cause him to succeed and be successful. He's calmed it down. He's grown up a lot. It's what you like to see out of young players. If they stick with it long enough, and you stick with them long enough, you can enjoy the fruits of their success with them."