Throwing a no-hitter can seem like a random occurrence. Edwin Jackson has a no-hitter. Dallas Braden has a no-hitter. One of Bud Smith’s 24 starts in the majors was a no hitter. Philip Humber has a perfect game. Tim Lincecum threw zero no-hitters in his incredible prime, and has thrown two since entering his decline. Pedro Martinez never threw one. Steve Carlton never did, either. No-hitters in major-league baseball require incredible skill, opportunity, and some luck. Thousands upon thousands of pitchers have had all three of those things, but fewer than 300 pitchers in MLB history have thrown a no-hitter. Chris Heston is now among that rare group.
Tidbits using the Baseball Reference Play Index:
- Chris Heston is only the 13th pitcher in MLB history to throw a no-hitter within his first 15 games in the majors. The last pitcher to match that feat was Clay Buchholz in 2007.
- Heston’s no-hitter was only the third in history in which the only hitters to reach base did so by means of a hit-by-pitch (HBP). The other two were Kevin Brown in 1997 and Lew Burdette in 1960.
- Heston’s three HBPs are the most in any no-hitter.
- Only ten pitchers have thrown a nine-inning no-hitter with a higher Game Score than Heston’s 98. Clayton Kershaw’s 102 mark from last season remains the top score.
- Of the 24 pitchers to throw a no-hitter within their first 30 games, Heston is the fifth-oldest at 27 years and 60 days. Bobo Holloman was the oldest at 30 years and 60 days when he threw his no-hitter in 1953 for the St. Louis Browns.
Blessed with ability to throw a baseball at speeds greater than 90 miles per hour, Chris Heston’s skills in that regard place him in the upper reaches of the baseball-throwing population. Heston used those skills and his own work to earn a selection by the San Francisco Giants in the 12th round of the 2009 MLB draft and receive a signing bonus of roughly $50,000 coming out of East Carolina University. However, most pitchers with Heston’s profile don’t make it to the major leagues.
A ground-ball pitcher as a result of his sinker, Heston moved through the minors steadily, advancing a level every year and reaching Triple-A in 2013 as a 25-year-old after a strong season at Double-A in which he posted a sub-2.50 ERA and FIP due in part to giving up just two home runs in nearly 150 innings pitched. Heston was noticed by FanGraphs’ own Carson Cistulli, meriting a mention in his very first Fringe Five, itself a refuge for overlooked minor leaguers. Heston stalled in 2013, at one point losing his spot on the Giants’ 40-man roster to make room for Jeff Francoeur. Heston cleared waivers and signed with the Giants on a minor-league contract. Heston saw his strikeout rate decline in 2014, but merited a September callup. Entering this season, Kiley McDaniel named Heston the 14th-best Giants prospect and noted, “Heston may be one of the small percentage of potential #5 starters that turns into more.”
Heston received a rotation spot when Matt Cain hit the disabled list at the beginning of the year, and lived up to his reputation as a ground-ball pitcher, inducing them at a rate greater than 55% on the season. Heston struck out 10 Astros against no walks in a start earlier in the year after reaching double figures in strikeouts just three times in 128 minor-league starts and none since 2012 in Double-A. Entering last night’s game, Heston had pitched solidly for an end-of-the-rotation starter, producing a 4.29 ERA and 3.54 FIP, but was coming off one of his worst starts of the season after giving up five runs in 3.2 innings. That marked already the fifth start of the season in which Heston failed to go six innings while also giving up at least five runs. In the start against the Pirates, he gave up seven hits and no home runs with a BABIP against of .583. Sometimes those ground balls find holes. Sometimes they don’t.
There were no holes to be found for Heston last night, who did not suffer too many close calls on the way to another Giants gem. No-hitters are exciting. They take the odds of a month-long hitting streak, and pack it into one evening with no margin for error. One bad bounce, one seeing-eye single, or one pop-up that drifts a bit too far ends the chase. Heston played his game to perfection, going primarily with his ground ball-inducing sinking fastball. The sinker got ground-ball outs, and he had his curve working throughout the game when he needed to put hitters away.
Here it is in the first inning:
Now in the second:
And in the third:
Heston threw 36 curves on the night and got 7 swings and misses. Indeed, six of Heston’s 11 strikeouts on the night were a result of the pitch, per Brooks Baseball. With 13 ground balls out of 15 balls in play, the infield defense was kept busy despite the strikeouts. Twenty-five of the 27 outs occurred without the ball leaving the infield, including this double play in the fourth inning following two hit batsmen earlier in the frame.
Heston’s game lacked a signature defensive gem, but Brandon Crawford made a very good play in the eighth to keep the no-hitter alive.
Heston entered the ninth with a chance at history, and as any good broadcast does, they showed my favorite non-action sequence in sports.
Heston, still unwilling to give in, hit Anthony Recker to start the ninth before striking out Daniel Muno and Curtis Granderson. Heston hadn’t benefited from a generous strike zone all day, with almost all of the called strikes before the ninth in the typically called strike zone. In the ninth inning, Heston received the benefit of the doubt on borderline calls, although none of the calls were egregious errors. With his no-hitter on the line, he left no doubt, throwing a pitch on the outer half of the strike zone to Ruben Tejada.
In the end, he showed little regard for the baseball that had been so kind to him and cemented his place in history.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.