They’re rare, though perhaps not as completely rare as you might believe. Josh Beckett’s no-hitter on Sunday was the 283rd thrown in major league history.
When you think of the pitchers who have thrown no-nos, fireballers like Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Felix Hernandez probably come to mine. Guys who make knees weak.
And certainly, baseball lore is filled with the classic hard-throwing arms who simply dominated the opposition.
But there are plenty of no-hitters by guys like Beckett, pitchers well best their prime years. And some by those who never really had a prime.
That’s the fascination of no-hitters, they can seem so arbitrary.
Kevin Gross, who won more than 13 games only once in his career, went 8-13 in 1992, the year he threw a no-hitter for the Dodgers. Fernando Valenzuela was well past his prime and almost 2,400 innings into his career when he threw a no-hitter for the Dodgers in 1990; they released him the next spring.
Tim Lincecum is hardly the same dominant pitcher he was when he won back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2008 and '09, but somehow he threw a 148-pitch no-hitter last July for the Giants, midway through a season in which he finished 10-14 with a 4.37 ERA.
Sandy Koufax threw four no-hitters in which you just assumed no one had a chance, but Homer Bailey has thrown two and he’s never won more than 13 games in a season.
Dallas Braden threw a perfect game for the A’s in 2010, and finished his career 26-36 with a 4.16 ERA. Which must look pretty good to Philip Humber, who tossed one two years later for the White Sox and is 16-23 with a 5.31 ERA in his career and currently back in the minors.
Sometimes you just can’t see them coming. Beckett doesn’t throw almost 100 mph like he once did, but he can still get it up to 93. But the Beckett who threw Sunday’s gem is 34 and suddenly relying a lot more on his curve and, against the Phillies, his changeup.
Not all no-hitters are about intimidation and being overmatched. Sometimes there is just a capricious nature to them that has to be enjoyed in their own right.