Star Treks

It can be said that Harry Leroy Halladay, like James Tiberius Kirk, has gone where no man has gone before. Certainly, where no man has gone for the past 54 years.

Major league baseball has been playing postseason championship games and series of one sort or another since 1882. Prior to 1905, these contests were essentially what we would now call exhibitions, and were played under a variety of rather flexible rules and formats. However, that didn't stop the winning team (or, in a couple of cases, both teams) from claiming baseball supremacy after the series ended. In all, counting 2010, MLB has now played 120 seasons worth of post season play… something a little over 1300 total games. And, in all those games, over all that time, there had been exactly one no-hitter pitched… until last night… when the aforementioned Harry Leroy Halladay, better known as "Roy" or "Doc" (after the 19th Century dentist/gunfighter – and how's that for an interesting resume – John Henry "Doc" Holliday) pitched the second. While Halladay may not have been the first postseason no-hit pitcher, he was going where no man has gone in terms of being the first pitcher to; throw a no-hitter in the regular season and the post season, have a perfect game and a no-hitter in the same season, throw a no-hitter in his first postseason start, throw a postseason no-hitter for a National League team, throw two no-hitters in the same season in 37 years (Nolan Ryan being the last to do that), to account for two no-hitters in a year in which he even pitched in the postseason in 59 years (the other one being Allie Reynolds in 1951), and, as noted, throw the first postseason no-hitter in 54 years. (For good measure, he was also the first pitcher to no-hit the Reds in more than 39 years, or since the Phillies' Rick Wise had his two-home-run no-hitter in 1971. My, how time flies.)

 

Everyone, well, almost everyone, knows that the Yankees Don Larsen, a prototypical journeyman hurler, threw a perfect game at the Brooklyn Dodgers in game five of the 1956 World Series at Yankee Stadium. Ninety-seven pitches, all from a no-windup delivery that few of the Dodgers had ever seen before. Twenty-seven up, 27 down. It was a remarkable feat for a pitcher who would finish his 14-year major league career with an 81-91 record and a 99 ERA+. The imperfect man pitched the perfect game, to quote the famous newspaper lead actually written by the New York Daily News Dick Young.

 

Today, no one is claiming Roy Halladay is perfect. After all, he did walk the Reds Jay Bruce on a 3-2 count in the fifth inning when a cut fastball dipped just low and inside. But, it can be claimed that Halladay did pull off a stunning accomplishment, since it's not just that postseason no-hitters are so rare… even postseason complete game one-hitters are extremely unusual. In fact, there have been only seven since 1882 (and only four of those were shutouts.)

 

The first was by one of those forgotten pitching stars of the Deadball Era, Ed Reulbach. Pitching against the Hitless Wonder White Sox in the 1906 Series that the Sox would ultimately win in a famous upset, Reulbach took game two 7-1, giving up just a seventh inning single to Jiggs Donahue. It shouldn't have been a total surprise, since Reulbach had gone 19-4 for the 116-win Cubs during the regular season. The Sox run came in the fifth inning on a walk, a force out, a wild pitch and an error. However, the Sox later took revenge on Reulbach, knocking him out in the third inning of game five.

 

Thirty-nine years later, during one of the worst World Series of all time (so bad that sportswriter Warren Brown commented beforehand that he didn't think either team could win), another Cubs pitcher, Claude Passeau (yes, this was the last time the Cubbies were in the World Series… 1945, or 65 years ago) dominated the Tigers in game three of that series, winning 3-0. A sharp, two-out single to left by Rudy York in the second inning was the Tigers' only hit, even though Passeau (who had been one of the Cubs' two aces during the year, going 17-9) would strike out just one batter during the game.

 

Two years later came the most famous one-hitter in World Series history, as the Yankees Bill Bevens took a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth inning at Ebbets Field. Bevens, an undistinguished 7-13 on the regular season, had been as wild as the March Hare during the game, walking eight in the first eight innings. The score at that point in the game was 2-1, Yankees, the Bums having scored a run in the fifth on two of Bevens walks, a sacrifice bunt and a fielder's choice.

 

Bruce Edwards started the ninth by flying out to deep center. Bevens then walked Carl Furillo (walk #9) and Spider Jorgensen fouled out to first. One out to go. Defying "The Book," pinch-runner Al Gionfriddo stole second base while semi-crippled pinch-hitter Pete Reiser (think Kurt Gibson, 41 years later) was batting. Now it was Yankees manager Bucky Harris' turn to defy "The Book," ordering Reiser walked intentionally (walk #10), and not only putting the winning run on base, but doing so with a pitcher who was having trouble throwing strikes. Just to keep everyone from getting bored, Dodger manager Burt Shotton then pinch hit for his leadoff man, the best on-base man on the team, Eddie Stanky. Veteran Cookie Lavagetto was sent up to hit. Bevens, a fastball pitcher who was having trouble getting the ball over the plate, most likely laid a couple of pitches right over the plate, trying to get strikes. Lavagetto hit the second one off the right field wall for a double, winning the game 3-2 for Brooklyn .

 

Larsen's feat has been hashed over ad infinitum, so there's not really much point in recapping his perfect game in comparison to Halladay's, except to note that both of them no-hit the best hitting team in the National League in their respective seasons. However, Larsen was pitching in cavernous Yankee Stadium, and Halladay in the close confines of Citizen's Bank Park .

 

The last pitcher to take a postseason no-hitter into the really late innings was Jim Lonborg of the Red Sox in his 22-7, 1967 Cy Young season. (Note to Roy Halladay: Make room on your mantle for another one of those.) In game two of the 1967 Series against the Cardinals, a 5-0 Red Sox win, Lonborg (a pitching dentist, it might be noted) didn't give up a hit until there were two outs in the eighth. And then the no-hitter was broken up by a guy who couldn't hit much, Julian Javier, who doubled into the left field corner for the only St. Louis safety of the game.

 

Although the number of postseason games each postseason has suffered from inflation (to an average of about 30 per year) in recent years, there have still been only three one-hitters since Lonborg's gem, and they came in back-to-back years, 1999 and 2000. The first was in the NLDS, when the Braves Kevin Millwood (yes, the same Kevin Millwood who just went 4-16 this year… however, he was 18-7 and led the NL in WHIP in '99) shut down the Astros in game two, winning 5-1 and giving up just a solo home run to Ken Caminiti in the second inning. The very next year, there were two one-hitters, another one in the NLDS on Oct. 8, 2000, and then a second in the ALCS, just six days later, on Oct. 14, 2000. In the first, the spirit of Bill Bevens and Don Larsen must have been at work, since the Mets Bobby Jones, an equally undistinguished hurler (he was 11-6 with a 5.06 ERA in the regular season), one-hit the Giants, 4-0, in game four, allowing only a double leading off the fifth inning to Jeff Kent. It was, by the way, Jones first preseason start. He would make two more that year, giving up a total of nine earned runs in nine innings in the NLCS and the World Series. The American League one-hitter was more predictable – Roger Clemens beat Seattle 5-0 in that game four, allowing just a double to Al Martin leading off the seventh.

 

But, that's it. Seven one-hitters and a sole perfect game in 129 years and more than 1300 postseason games. Until last night, a night Halladay had waited for his entire career. To quote the title of Jayson Stark's book on the 2008 Phillies, it was "worth the wait."

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