Miles Mikolas and Tyler Anderson Both Had Close Encounters with No-Hitters

Miles Mikolas
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

In a season that has already produced two no-hitters (as well as two that would have counted as such before Major League Baseball tightened its definition of the feat), this week produced two near-misses on consecutive nights. On Tuesday night in St. Louis, the Cardinals’ Miles Mikolas came within one strike of no-hitting the Pirates, and on Wednesday night in Los Angeles, the Dodgers’ Tyler Anderson fell two outs short of no-hitting the Angels. It’s fair to say that we’ve never seen anything quite like this.

Had either Mikolas or Anderson pulled off the feat, they would have joined Tylor Megill and four Mets relievers, who combined to no-hit the Phillies on April 29, and the Angels’ Reid Detmers, who no-hit the Rays on May 10. In the first of several coincidences that run through this tale, Detmers was actually Anderson’s opposite number on Wednesday, though he exited in the fourth inning after being roughed up for four runs. The Pirates, as it turns out, were already held hitless in a game on May 15 by the Reds’ Hunter Greene and Art Warren, but because they scored the game’s only run and didn’t need to bat in the ninth given that they were at home, the effort did not count as a no-hitter based on a 1991 ruling by MLB’s Committee for Statistical Accuracy.

(In the other non-no-hitter this year, six Rays pitchers held the Red Sox hitless for nine innings on April 23, but a seventh pitcher allowed a hit in the 10th inning.)

The 33-year-old Mikolas started the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader against a team that owns the NL’s weakest offense (3.42 runs per game) and its second-lowest batting average (.220). He only got as far as the second inning before allowing his first baserunner; with one out, he hit Canaan Smith-Njigba in the left foot with a slider, then erased him when Diego Castillo grounded into a 5-4-3 double play. Mikolas need another double play in the third after leadoff hitter Hoy Park reached on an error, as third baseman Brendan Donovan, who fielded his grounder, pulled Paul Goldschmidt off first base with a high throw. Yu Chang followed by working a seven-pitch walk before Michael Perez grounded into the needed 4-6-3 double play and Tucupita Marcano struck out, one of six punchouts on the night for Mikolas.

That 20-pitch third inning was the St. Louis righty’s most labor-intensive of the night. By comparison, Mikolas needed only 10 pitches in the fourth, which began with another error by the Cardinals’ defense; this time, Bryan Reynolds‘ fly ball glanced off the glove of left fielder Juan Yepez. He took second on the error, then came around to score after groundouts by Jack Suwinski and Daniel Vogelbach.

By that point, the Cardinals had already plated seven runs, and Suwinski’s grounder began a string of 17 consecutive batters retired that carried Mikolas to within one out of completing the no-hitter. He passed the 100-pitch mark while facing Castillo, who led off the eighth inning by battling for eight pitches before striking out. By the end of the frame, Mikolas had matched his MLB career high of 115 pitches, set on May 29 in a 5.2-inning grind against the Brewers (Lord knows how high he went during his three years in Japan).

Mikolas needed just two pitches to dispatch Perez on a grounder to start the ninth, and six more to get Marcano to fly to right. Facing Cal Mitchell for the final out, he fell behind 2–0, then got a called strike on a fastball and a swinging strike on a down-and-in curve. Mitchell fouled off another fastball, then hit a deep fly ball to center field. Gold Glove winner Harrison Bader leaped in pursuit of the ball but just missed as it went over his head and bounced off of the warning track and over the wall for a ground rule double. Mikolas exited to a hearty ovation from Busch Stadium’s 33,977 fans, leaving Packy Naughton to record the final out.

Statcast measured the catch probability of Mitchell’s 101.4-mph drive at 20%. “If Bader doesn’t catch that ball, there’s no one in this league that could catch it,” said Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol afterward. “So, if you’re going to go down, that’s how you want to go down.”

The no-hitter would have been the first by a Cardinal since Bud Smith’s gem against the Padres in San Diego on September 3, 2001. “I’m a little over it. I mean it stinks, to get that close and then kind of come up empty-handed,” Mikolas said. According to the pitcher, there was no discussion with Marmol or the coaching staff about whether he would go back out for the ninth given his pitch count or his history of arm injuries, which includes several bouts of elbow inflammation and shoulder fatigue, plus surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in 2020 and then a stem cell injection to alleviate calcification in the tendon last year, when he was limited to just nine starts.

“You only get so many opportunities to do [what] he was really close to doing today,” Marmol said. “Everybody in that dugout wanted that real bad for him.”

“I’m in the best shape of my life, so that’s no problem for me. That’s what starters train all year for,” said Mikolas of his pitch count. “Going the distance is always the goal.”

As for Anderson, manager Dave Roberts gave him the green light to start the ninth despite the 32-year-old lefty having already thrown a career-high 117 pitches, and despite the manager’s own reputation for pitch count-related decisions to pull pitchers with no-hitters — or even, in the case of Clayton Kershaw on April 13, a perfect game — in progress. “I know I’ve got this reputation as the grim reaper, but I’m a sports fan, too,” Roberts said afterward, “and I really felt I wanted that just as much as Tyler and his teammates wanted that for him.”

Anderson entered the season as the Dodgers’ sixth starter but has thrived thanks to an improved changeup and an opening in the rotation created by Andrew Heaney’s bout of shoulder inflammation. On Wednesday, he didn’t even get out of the first with a chance at a perfect game; Taylor Ward blooped his fourth pitch of the night to short right center field, where center fielder Cody Bellinger and right fielder Mookie Betts collided. Betts caught the ball but dropped it upon contact; Bellinger picked it up and fired to Trea Turner at second base, beating Ward by a couple steps. The play was initially scored as a hit, but changed to an error within minutes, long before the possibility of a no-hitter emerged. Anderson then walked Mike Trout on five pitches before striking out both Shohei Ohtani and Matt Duffy. His 20 pitches in the first was his high for the night; only in the fifth and the eighth would he even surpass 13 pitches.

Anderson began the second by hitting Jared Walsh in the shoulder to start the second before retiring 17 consecutive batters, a streak that ended with Walsh’s dribbler down the first base line with two outs in the seventh. Anderson fielded the ball, spun and made a wild throw that bounced well short of first baseman Freddie Freeman and rolled into foul territory, a two-base error; had he pocketed the ball, which would have been the prudent play, he would have lost the no-hitter. Anderson wasn’t even aware that he had one in progress until the end of that inning, after recovering to induce Juan Lagares to fly out, reaching 99 with his pitch count, and discussing the situation with pitching coach Mark Prior.

In the eighth inning, Anderson walked leadoff hitter Kurt Suzuki with his 104th pitch of the night but needed just 11 pitches to retire the next three hitters, the last of them Ward, whom he retired on his seventh strikeout via a changeup just below the strike zone. In escaping the inning, he surpassed his career high of 109 pitches, set on July 10, 2018 while pitching for the Rockies against the Diamondbacks; as a Dodger, he topped out with 101 pitches on May 23, when he threw eight shutout innings against the Nationals, no-hitting them for 5.1 of them.

“The number went by the wayside after the eighth inning,” said Roberts of Anderson’s pitch count. “Just watching his stuff, there wasn’t much of a falloff. There was still command in there, there was still teeth to the breaking pitches. I was just really wanting that for him.”

To get the no-hitter, he would have to earn it, as Trout and Ohtani were the first two batters of the ninth. He struck out the former looking at a cutter near the top of the zone, but the latter — who, you may recall, had his own perfect game bid of 5.1 innings foiled on April 20 — hit his next pitch, a slightly lower and more central cutter, on a 98.2-mph rocket into the right field corner. Betts dove, but fell about a full Mookie short of catching the ball.

“I kind of laughed that he dove for it. It’s a very nice gesture,” said Anderson afterward. He exited to a huge ovation from the Dodger Stadium crowd of 50,812, and Craig Kimbrel gave up an RBI single to Duffy before getting the final two outs.

Anderson was vying to complete the first no-hitter by the Dodgers since Walker Buehler and three relievers combined to no-hit the Padres on May 4, 2018, and to become the first Dodger to throw a complete-game no-hitter since Kershaw against the Rockies on June 18, 2014. Instead he was the first Dodger to have a no-hitter broken up in the ninth inning or later since Rich Hill lost a no-hit bid in the 10th inning against the Pirates on August 23, 2017.

Based on research by Stew Thornley, who has created a log of no-hit and perfect game bids lost in the ninth inning dating back to the birth of the National Association in 1871, there has not been an instance of two such games occurring on back-to-back days. However, there have been four instances of two no-hit (or perfect game) bids broken up on the same day, most recently on August 20, 1986. On that day, the Phillies’ Don Carman had his perfect game bid foiled by the Giants’ Bob Brenly, who doubled to lead off the ninth, and the Tigers’ Walt Terrell had his no-hitter broken up by the Angels’ Wally Joyner, who doubled with two outs. The two-fer before that took place on July 13, 1979, when the Angels’ Nolan Ryan allowed a single to the Yankees Reggie Jackson with one out in the ninth, and the Red Sox’s Steve Renko gave up a single to the Athletics’ Rickey Henderson with one out as well. I vividly remember the Ryan game, which was nationally televised and became the cover story of that week’s Sports Illustrated. The game primed me to appreciate Ryan’s record-breaking fifth no-hitter against the Dodgers two years later, but I had absolutely no idea until researching this piece that Renko came just as close on the same night; he would never get any closer.

The two occurrences before that took place on July 4, 1906 (St. Louis’ Barney Pelty and Pittsburgh’s Lefty Leifield) and August 22, 1888 (St. Louis’ Silver King and Cleveland’s Jersey Bakley). I’ll leave you to the details on those here.

While there were a record nine no-hitters thrown last season, including two on back-to-back days (the Tigers’ Spencer Turnbull against the Mariners on May 18 and the Yankees’ Corey Kluber against the Rays on May 19), only two bids were broken up in the ninth, though over a larger timeframe, the distribution between completed no-nos and those foiled late is more even. Since 2015, there have been 29 no-hitters, and 24 bids broken up in the ninth, not counting any seven-inning doubleheader games, Greene’s eight-inning effort, or the aforementioned two bids that were broken up in the 10th, those of Hill and the Rays’ pitchers.

Updating Thornley’s data, since 1961, pitchers (one or more for a team) took no-hitters into the ninth inning 349 times (about six per season), and 177 (51.3%) of those were completed as no-hitters. Of those, 70 bids (20.1%) ended before the first out of the inning was recorded, while 56 of the remaining 279 bids (again 20.1%) ended after the first out, and 44 of the remaining 223 bids (19.7%) ended after the second out — an impressively consistent rate of attrition. Looking at it another way, 63.4% of no-hit bids that got through the first out of the ninth were completed, and 80.2% that made it through the second out were completed.

Updating the table I’ve been keeping, over the past month the prevalence of pitchers and teams taking no-hit bids into the sixth inning or later has gone down:

No-Hit Bids as a Percentage of Games Since 2015
Year Games NH Broken 6 Broken 7 Broken 8 Broken 9 Broken 10 Broken 6+ % Near NH % Near + NH
2015 4858 7 42 22 12 5 0 81 1.67% 1.81%
2016 4856 1 40 23 9 4 0 76 1.57% 1.59%
2017 4860 1 43 13 4 5 1 66 1.36% 1.38%
2018 4862 3 45 30 10 3 0 88 1.81% 1.87%
2019 4858 4 48 17 4 4 0 73 1.50% 1.59%
2020 1576 2 28 7 1 1 0 37 2.35% 2.47%
2021 4622 9 30 24 14 2 0 70 1.51% 1.71%
2022 1886 2 26 5 6 2 1 40 2.17%* 2.28%*
Total 32378 29 302 141 60 26 2 531 1.64%* 1.73%*
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference + NoNoHitters + Kernels of Wisdom
All statistics through June 15. Does not include seven-inning doubleheader games.
* = includes on eight-inning hitless game that does not officially count as a no-hitter or as a broken-up no-hit bid. (Reds, 5/15/22)

When I last checked in, on the occasion of Greene’s game, 2.51% of all games produced no-hit bids that were broken up in the sixth inning or later, and 2.71% of games produced no-hit bids or completed no-hitters. Looking at it another way, where pitchers had taken no-hitters into the sixth inning once for every 37 starts, that rate is now up to about once for every 44 starts.

The reason, as you might have guessed, is rising offensive rates as the weather has warmed:

MLB Offense by Month
April .231 .307 .369 93 4.03
May .246 .313 .398 102 4.43
June .248 .315 .411 106 4.63

The major league batting average rose by 15 points from April to May and increased by another two points in the first half of June, and slugging percentages have risen by 29 points and then 13 points. On a percentage basis, scoring increased by 9.8% from April to May and by 4.5% from May to June. Suffice it to say that hitting conditions have improved, and with it, we’re seeing fewer no-hit bids. That’s probably for the best given the game’s current aesthetic issues and the suspicion that surrounds the ball itself, and it should make us appreciate all the more what we witnessed this week from Mikolas and Anderson.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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1 year ago

I remember watching the Ryan game getting broken up in the 9th too!