The last time Corey Kluber went to work at Globe Life Field was the only time he went to work as a Texas Ranger. Kluber pitched one scoreless inning last July, donning a powder blue uniform for his new team. He left prematurely due to tightness in his throwing shoulder, which proved to be a season-ending Grade 2 tear of his teres major muscle.
In his return to Texas, and in some ways his return to prominence, Kluber’s comeback season found an early exclamation point. The two-time American League Cy Young winner threw the Yankees’ first no-hitter since 1999 in a 2-0 win over the Rangers on Wednesday night.
“I’ve never been part of one [or] witnessed one, let alone thrown one,” Kluber said. “So, more than anything, it was a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Kluber appeared locked in from the jump, freezing his first two batters of the game for strikeouts. It didn’t matter that Kluber missed his spot badly on both punchouts.
“We were trying to go away with the changeup to Willie [Calhoun] and I yanked it inside to him,” Kluber explained. “And then with [Nick] Solak, we were trying to go down and away with a breaking ball and I kind of accidentally front-doored him with it. … Just tried, after that first inning, [to] reel in those misses a little bit.”
And reel them in he did. His only blatant miss all night came in the form of a four-pitch walk to Charlie Culberson in the third inning, preventing perfection. Otherwise, Kluber carved up the Rangers for nine strikeouts on just 101 pitches. His best and most used pitch was the curveball -- which is tight and firm like a slider -- and it generated seven whiffs on 12 swings (58 percent whiff rate).
He looked at ease mowing down the opposition, and in one instance, he was even spotted laughing with batterymate Kyle Higashioka in the dugout between innings. That’s not an everyday occurrence for the stoic Kluber.
“I can’t even remember what we were talking about, but I don’t mind saying something that’s gonna make him laugh,” Higashioka said. “I know it’s not gonna cause him to lose focus.”
Kluber said he wasn’t thinking about the no-hitter until the ninth, but other Yankees were in tune much earlier. Manager Aaron Boone, for example, was well ahead of the pack.
“For some reason, it popped in my head the first inning -- I’m not kidding you,” Boone said.
In the seventh, Brett Gardner reminded fellow outfielder Tyler Wade of the no-no in progress, and that they should lay out for anything marginally close. Wade was taken aback that Gardner would even say “no-hitter” out loud.
“He’s like, ‘Hey, you know we’ve got a no-hitter going, right?’” Wade recalled. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, man. Just keep it down, keep it down.’”
Wade played the role of unsung hero on Wednesday, coming off the bench as an injury replacement for Ryan LaMarre. In his first at-bat, Wade tripled to right-center field to bring home the game’s first run; he scored in the ensuing at-bat on a DJ LeMahieu sac fly.
Then in the bottom of the ninth, Wade darted to his left to snag a line drive and keep the no-hitter intact. The play was fairly routine -- David Dahl’s liner had a .160 expected batting average, per Statcast -- but it didn’t look that way in such a pressure-packed situation.
“I found myself, in the last two innings, every ball that was hit you think it’s destined to be a hit when it’s probably not,” Boone said. “I think just because you’re probably a little bit more emotional in the moment.”
“I was doing a little hyperventilating on the bench between the eighth and ninth innings,” Higashioka said. He then added, with a smile, “Luckily Corey didn’t notice.”
No, Kluber had his own emotions to focus on, though he rarely shows them. He took a deep breath after his ninth-inning warmup to calm down, and then he went back to work.
Groundout. Lineout. Groundout. Then, a celebration.
In the year of the no-no -- there have already been six no-hitters in the Majors, one off the single-season record -- this one was plenty special for Kluber, his teammates and the Yankees’ franchise, which celebrated its first no-hitter since David Cone’s perfect game on July 18, 1999, against the Montreal Expos.
Boone called it a “privilege.” Wade said it was “probably the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of in my life.” For Kluber, it was simply “special.”
Perhaps slightly more special after injuries cost him all but eight starts over the previous two seasons. And even more special, still, that it came in the same ballpark in Texas where he pitched his lone inning in 2020. In fact, his Rangers tenure was so short that the club didn’t have a chance to hand out his bobblehead last season. The Rangers did so on Wednesday.
“We expected some outings like that in our ballpark,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “Unfortunately, not against us. I can't say enough good things about him, besides when he throws a no-hitter against you.
“At the same time, I'm not surprised by this guy's success. I’ve watched this guy personally go through his routines and the work that he puts in. ... I'm not surprised.”
Kluber wasn’t thinking about his short 2020 season as he made history on Wednesday night. But afterward, Robinson Chirinos -- Kluber’s catcher for that fateful Rangers start, and now a taxi squad member with the Yankees -- was quick to remind him.
“Chirinos came up to me and said, ‘Congratulations,’” Kluber recalled. “‘A lot better than the last time you were on the mound here.’”