Washington Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann pitched a no-hitter against the Miami Marlins on Sunday. It was the first no-hitter in the history of the ten-year-old franchise. It was also the last day of the regular season. Those facts alone will keep the memory of Zimmermann’s effort alive for Nationals fans for years to come. But they won’t be the most memorable aspect of the no-hitter. That belongs to Steven Souza Jr.
Nationals manager Matt Williams sent Souza in to replace Ryan Zimmerman in left field for the top of the ninth inning. Zimmerman isn’t a natural left fielder, but a shoulder injury has hampered his throw across the diamond from his usual spot at third base. That, and the emergence of Anthony Rendon, has lead to Zimmerman playing left field quite a bit this season.
With Souza in left, Michael Taylor in center and Nate Schierholtz in right, the Marlins’ Christian Yelich stepped to the plate against Zimmermann. There were two outs and Yelich was the last hope for the Marlins to break up Zimmerman’s no-hit bid. Courtesy of Erik Malinowski, a Vine of Yelich’s fly ball out.
And here’s a view of the catch from Nationals fan Jonny Rasch, taken from his outfield seat, and posted on Vine.
A diving, full-extension grab from a 25-year-old rookie who was drafted by the Nationals in 2007 and made his MLB debut in April. A kid with 46 innings of outfield defense in the majors, but only 22 in left field.
Seems it always happens that way, doesn’t it? A player is inserted to bolster the defense and the ball finds him right away.
We remember how Dewayne Wise saved Mark Buehrle’s perfect game after taking over in center field in the top of the ninth inning on July 23, 2009. Wise replaced Scott Posednik, who moved from center to left. Then Wise did this after Gabe Kapler hit a big fly:
Are Wise and Souza the outliers? How often do managers use defensive replacements when the starter has a no-hitter or perfect game going? And when a player comes in for defense, how often has he been called upon to keep the no-hitter or perfect game alive?
I looked at the last 31 single-pitcher no-hitters, dating back to Randy Johnson’s perfect game against the Braves in 2004. Fourteen involved no defensive changes at all, including the perfect games thrown by Felix Hernandez on August 15, 2012; Roy Halladay on May 29, 2010; Dallas Braden on May 9, 2010; and Randy Johnson on May 18, 2004.
In the other 17 no-hitters, there was at least one defensive change in the seventh inning or later. In all but one of those, the defensive substitute entered at the top of the inning. The exception? In Johan Santana’s June 1, 2012 no-hitter for the Mets against the Cardinals, left fielder Mike Baxter made a running catch on a ball crushed by Yadier Molina and the crashed into the wall.
After Baxter left the game, Kirk Nieuwenhuis moved to left from center and Andres Torres took over center. The ball didn’t find Nieuwenhuis in left immediately, but in the top of the eighth, he was forced to make this play.
That leaves 16 no-hitters with what appear to be moves by the manager to strengthen the defense behind his starter in the seventh inning or later. In seven such games, the defensive replacement just stood around looking good on the field and wasn’t called on to make any plays. These were the no-hitters by:
- Clayton Kershaw on June 18, 2014 (Carlos Triunfel substituted in for Hanley Ramirez at shortstop (but after Ramirez committed the one error that kept Kershaw from throwing a perfect game));
- Clay Buchholz on September 1, 2007 (Jacoby Ellsbury replaced Bobby Kielty and played left field, with Brandon Moss moving from left to right);
- Anibal Sanchez on September 6, 2006 (Eric Reed replaced Joe Borchard in right field, then moved to center, and Alfredo Amezaga moved from center to right field).
We’re down to nine no-hitters were the ball found the defensive replacement. One is Zimmermann’s on Sunday. The second is Buehrle’s perfect game saved by Dewayne Wise. In several, the defensive replacement made routine plays.
In Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter this season, on June 25 against the Padres, Juan Perez came into the game in the sixth as a pinch runner for Michael Morse, then took over in left field, and made a catch on a routine fly ball to end the eight inning. In Phil Humber’s perfect game on April 12, 2012 against the Mariners, Brent Lillibridge replaced Dayan Viciendo in right field in the bottom of the eighth. Lillibridge then caught a liner off the bat of Kyle Seager.
In Jon Lester’s no-hitter on May 19, 2008, Jacoby Ellsbury moved to left field in the top of the eighth inning and Coco Crisp took over center. Crisp then caught a fly ball off the bat of Mark Teahen to end the eighth. There was some irony to the move, as Ellsbury made a diving, sprawling catch in the fourth to save Lester’s no-hit bid.
That gives us four no-hitters — in addition to Zimmermann’s and Buehrle’s — where the defensive replacement had a big impact on the game.
Matt Cain’s perfect game against the Astros on June 13, 2012. In the top of the seventh, Brandon Crawford took over at shortstop and Joaquin Arias moved from short to third, sending Pablo Sandoval to the bench. In the top of the eighth, Arias did this:
And finally, Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter on July 10, 2009 against the Padres. In the seventh inning, Bruce Bochy sent Kevin Frandsen in to play second base and moved Juan Uribe from second to third. Pablo Sandoval went to the bench. In eighth, Uribe couldn’t field a Chase Headley grounder and was charged with an error. (You can see play at :21 seconds of this highlight reel).
Sanchez issued no walks, so the Uribe error kept him from pitching a perfect. And it stands as the only error by a defensive replacement in a no-hitter dating back to 2004.
In this relatively small sample size, the ball found the defensive replacement more than half the time and in all but one instance the new defender either helped or was neutral to the cause. Poor Jonathan Sanchez.