As far as baseball controversies go, maybe Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning no-hitter on Sunday doesn’t quite rank up there with the designated hitter, Kevin Cash’s decision to take out Blake Snell, or whether Jackie Robinson was safe when he stole home in the 1955 World Series.
Or maybe it does. In fact, I just misspoke. Bumgarner’s game is not officially a no-hitter since it was not a nine-inning game, even though:
1. Bumgarner officially earns credit for a complete game and a shutout.
2. Since it was the second game of doubleheader between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves, it was a scheduled seven-inning game, not a nine-inning game.
The confusion dates back to a 1991 ruling from Major League Baseball’s committee on statistical accuracy that defined a no-hitter as “a game in which a pitcher, or pitchers, gives up no hits while pitching at least nine innings. A pitcher may give up a run or runs so long as he pitches nine innings or more and does not give up a hit.”
Prior to that change in the official records, no-hit games of fewer than nine innings were considered no-hitters. (I can’t say this for sure, but that ruling from the records committee might have been a reaction to Andy Hawkins’ game for the Yankees in 1990, when he allowed no hits in eight innings, yet lost 4-0 on four unearned runs. The record keepers might have considered it an affront to history that Hawkins deserved credit for a no-hitter in a game in which he pitched eight innings and allowed four runs.)
As our old friend Jayson Stark pointed out:
So here’s the absurdity of this no no-hitter. Zac Gallen threw a one hitter in the first game and that counts as a one hitter. But the no hitter doesn’t count as a no hitter because baseball!
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) April 25, 2021
The Diamondbacks made their own ruling:
IT COUNTS IN OUR BOOK.
MADISON BUMGARNER HAS THROWN A NO-HIT GAME! pic.twitter.com/nRHNWX0DVV
— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) April 25, 2021
Others had fun with it:
Since it’s an unofficial no-hitter, we made this for Madison Bumgarner to celebrate this momentous occasion pic.twitter.com/xofIw0ZoBm
— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 25, 2021
The Diamondbacks did celebrate when Bumgarner induced Marcell Ozuna to fly out to right field for the final out of the 7-0 victory, although the celebration wasn’t quite up to the usual no-hitter standards. In his postgame TV interview, Bumgarner dryly joked, “I want to thank these shadows in Atlanta. They helped me out a good bit. That was awesome. And I want to thank Rob Manfred for making these seven-inning games.”
The wonderfully named Devern Hansack of the Red Sox threw the last shortened no-hitter, back in 2006 — a five-inning contest on the final day of the season (in his second career start). The last pitcher to allow no hits in a complete game of seven innings was Sam Jones of the Giants in 1959. The difference, of course, is those were scheduled nine-inning games. At least Jones did throw an official no-hitter in his career, for the Cubs in 1955 (the first Black pitcher to accomplish the feat).
What’s your take? ESPN colleague Jeff Passan had a clear opinion on Twitter:
The league and union agreed to official seven-inning games.
One team got no hits in this official game.
The league and union can agree to official seven-inning no-hitters, too. Make it happen. https://t.co/xHukpTdXsz
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 25, 2021
OK, but this much is also clear: Seven innings is not the same thing as nine innings.
Just back up a couple of hours before Bumgarner’s gem. In the first game of the doubleheader, Bumgarner’s teammate Zac Gallen took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before ultimately settling for a complete-game one-hit shutout. He was having none of this seven-inning debate.
“It wouldn’t have counted, so that makes me feel better that it wasn’t actually a no-hitter anyway,” he said. “The complete-game shutout, I guess, works. That’s fine. We won. It really doesn’t matter. That’s the most important part.”
So Gallen wants to earn his no-hitter. Makes sense. Going back to 2016 — less than five full seasons — 51 individual pitchers, not including Bumgarner on Sunday, have pitched seven hitless innings. Only 10 of them were able to finish off the no-no. Bumgarner himself was one of those 51. In 2016, he allowed only a one-out, eighth-inning single to Arizona’s Jake Lamb, settling for a one-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts (the best regular-season game of his career).
Those final six outs are the tough ones.
As for the dueling Gallen and Bumgarner games, they did make for some fun facts:
• The last team with two complete-game shutouts in a doubleheader was the 1977 Red Sox, with the famous duo of Don Aase and Reggie Cleveland doing the deed in September against the expansion Blue Jays. Aase spun a three-hitter while Cleveland followed with a five-hitter. Both games were completed in less than 2 hours, 30 minutes.
• The Braves’ one hit in a doubleheader set a record for futility. The 1992 Indians recorded two hits in a doubleheader against the Red Sox on April 12. Here’s the really fun fact about that one: Cleveland won the first game 2-1 without a hit. Boston’s Matt Young pitched eight hitless innings (not an official no-hitter!) but allowed a run in the first inning when Kenny Lofton walked, stole second and third and scored on a ground ball error, and another in the third on two walks and two ground ball outs.
• The last team to get one or fewer hits in two consecutive games was Cleveland in June 2014, when Felix Hernandez and Fernando Rodney of the Mariners pitched a one-hitter on June 29 and then Dan Haren and two Dodgers relievers combined for a one-hitter the next day.
Anyway, we often hold baseball records as sacred numbers etched permanently into stone tablets. It’s certainly possible that MLB will reconsider how it views these seven-inning games. But consider the ramifications: If you change the ruling on Bumgarner because it was a scheduled seven-inning game, then you also must include all the eight-inning losing hitless games, right? Andy Hawkins and Matt Young threw complete games and did not allow a hit in a nine-inning game played to completion. If you’re going to credit Madison Bumgarner with a no-hitter, then you also have to credit Hawkins and Young (and Don Wilson and Clay Kirby).
So if you want to say Bumgarner pitched a no-hitter on Sunday, then so did Andy Hawkins.
The ultimate lesson here might be: no more seven-inning games.