There are no-hitters and then there are no-hitters. Max Scherzer's gem at Citi Field on Saturday night was certainly the latter. Just how good was the Nationals ace in his 2-0 victory over the Mets? Well, you could make a legitimate argument it was the best game ever pitched.
And while I wouldn't be willing to go that far, there are numbers out there to support the notion. With all due respect to Chris Heston and Mike Fiers, Scherzer's gem was a different breed of no-no.
He didn't allow a walk or a hit-by-pitch, and he would have been perfect, had it not been for Yunel Escobar's low throw on a sixth-inning ground ball. If Clint Robinson makes the pick at first base, it's a perfect game -- and, make no mistake, that's exactly what Scherzer deserved.
There's so much to digest in terms of numbers from this game. But four feats stand out as to why this no-hitter was truly special:
To be clear: If Scherzer had struck out 17 batters and given up 10 hits, it would have still been a transcendent performance. In fact, Scherzer's 17-strikeout game was just the 52nd in Major League history. (There have been 294 no-hitters.)
With 17 punchouts, Scherzer tied Nolan Ryan for the most ever in a no-hitter. And combining a high strikeout total with zero hits is special for two reasons: First, it is very, very hard to complete a game with so many strikeouts. They're taxing on the arm, and they take up a lot of pitches. Second, 17 strikeouts means Scherzer left only 10 of his outs up to chance (with "chance" referring to the positioning and range of his defenders, along with the randomness of batted balls). If you've watched baseball long enough, you've seen your share of fluky no-hitters. Clearly, this was not one of them.
104 Game Score
Yes, game score is an incredibly arbitrary number. No pitcher takes the mound on a given day and says, "Hey, I'd really like to hit 80 with my game score today." Remember Super Mario Bros? The goal of each level was to reach the finish without dying, and yet for some inexplicable reason there was a "score" at the bottom of the screen, tallying points that were irrelevant in the context of the game. Yeah, that's kind of what game score is.
That being said, game score can still tell us an awful lot about where a dominant pitching performance ranks within the context of history. And at 104, Scherzer now has the second best score of all-time (among nine-inning games). He trails only Kerry Wood, who posted a 105 in his 20-strikeout performance vs. the Astros in 1998 -- and he only trails Wood because of a technicality.
Wood plunked Craig Biggio during his start, but when Bill James devised the metric, he neglected to include HBPs. For any sensible person, Scherzer's no-hitter should rank dead even with Wood's.
Two no-hitters in one season
This is where Scherzer truly puts himself in a special class. Only six pitchers in MLB history have tossed two no-nos in the same season. That list is, as you'd expect, a very elite list:
Johnny Vander Meer (1938)
Allie Reynolds (1951)
Virgil Trucks (1952)
Nolan Ryan (1973)
Roy Halladay (2010) -- includes a postseason no-hitter
That's some pretty exclusive company. And what's crazier -- two no-hitters seems a bit low for Scherzer this year, given the other opportunities he had. On June 14, Scherzer tossed a one-hitter against the Brewers in which he fanned 16 and finished with a game score of 100. The only hit that day was a bloop single by Carlos Gomez.
Earlier this week, he carried a no-hitter into the eighth, facing Cincinnati. And against the Phillies in his first start after his first no-no, he cruised for five no-hit innings before giving up a double in the sixth. Even though Scherzer gave up five hits that night, make no mistake, he had no-hit stuff for five frames. The let-down from giving up his first hit in two starts was just a bit too much.
Nine consecutive strikeouts
The Major League record for consecutive strikeouts in one game is 10, set by Tom Seaver in 1970. Had Scherzer fanned Curtis Granderson to end the game -- instead of inducing him into a weak popup to third base -- he would have equaled that record. Imagine that: One of baseball's longest standing single-game records could have been equaled, and it would've gone largely unnoticed because of the other no-hitter hoopla.
Instead, Scherzer had to "settle" for nine strikeouts in a row -- in his third trip through the lineup, no less! Simply put, that isn't supposed to happen. The third time through an opposing batting order is where good pitching performances go to die. Not only is the pitcher tiring, but hitters have already seen his pitches and generally have an idea of what's coming. That's when they get comfortable at the plate.
Only no one was comfortable against Scherzer on Saturday night. He struck out all nine Mets swinging in his third trip through the lineup, and he didn't go to a single three-ball count on any of them. In the process, he recorded 15 swings and misses.
It may have been the single most dominant trip through an opposing lineup ever -- a dominant stretch within one of the most dominant starts in Major League history.