T.W.I.B. — the rare combined no-hitter happens twice in three weeks

In the history of Major League Baseball a total of 302 no-hitters have been tossed. The vast majority of them were thrown by a single pitcher, a feat that everyone involved in, from fans to players, will remember for a lifetime.

When you consider the number of games played in the history of baseball, it is safe to say that a no-hitter is rare. Recently, two no-no’s have been recorded and to suggest they were unique would be an understatement.

Both recent no-hit efforts were hurled by a combination of pitchers. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is a manager’s hesitation to pull a starting pitcher who hasn’t given up a hit, combined no hitters are extremely rare.

In fact, only 14 of them have happened in the history of the game. To get two of them in such a short span is hard to imagine. Both games had some interesting features to them. I will look at the recent games as well as a couple of others. You will likely agree that the odds of these events happening are incredible.

The most recent combined no-hitter took place a couple of days ago in Houston. The Astros starting pitcher was newcomer Aaron Sanchez, acquired from the Blue Jays just three days before.

He went six innings without surrendering a hit, the first Astros pitcher to do that in their team debut. He was followed to the hill by Will Harris, Joe Biagini (also picked up at the trade deadline) and Chris Devenski as the Astros beat Seattle 4-0. This game would not have generated so much interest if a combined no-hitter had not just occurred three weeks previously.

On July 12, the Los Angeles Angels returned home from a difficult road trip that had nothing to do with their record. While in Texas, starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs passed away at the age of 27. The team was devastated as you can imagine, but had to keep playing.

In their first home game since his death, all Angel players wore the No. 45 with Skaggs’ name on their backs. The game was started by Taylor Cole — the designated “opener” — a new concept in the game. This means that a reliever will start the game with no intention of pitching very long. He would then be relieved by one or more pitchers until the game is complete. Cole would pitch just two innings before giving way to Felix Pena. He is the same pitcher who tore his ACL in Cleveland this past weekend.

Pena would throw seven innings on this night completing the no-hitter. After the game, all the Angel players took off their jerseys and placed them on the mound to honor Skaggs.

The Angels won the game 13-0 against the Seattle Mariners. I wonder how the Mariner players feel about being no-hit twice in three weeks.

As I researched, the 14 combined no hitters in Major League Baseball history, I was particularly mesmerized by the first two. The earliest combined no-hitter took place all the way back in 1917. It may also be the most bizarre.

The starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox was none other than George Herman Ruth, better known as the Babe. Most baseball fans know that he was a pitcher and played for the Red Sox before being shipped to the Yankees.

On this day, Ruth managed to walk the leadoff hitter. He was not happy with the umpire’s strike zone during that at-bat and voiced his displeasure. He was promptly ejected. On came Ernie Shore who did not allow a hit in his nine full innings of work.

The Red Sox went on to win 4-0 as the Babe (0 innings pitched) and Shore (9 innings pitched) threw a “combined” no-hitter. I’m willing to venture you will never see that happen again.

The second combined no-hitter took place 50 years later and was equally strange. Baltimore’s Steve Barber took his no-hitter and a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers. Barber walked the first two batters before they were sacrificed to third.

A wild pitch allowed the tying run to score before Barber walked his 10th hitter of the game. He was then replaced by Stu Miller. Don Wert promptly lined out to shortstop Luis Aparicio who fired to Mark Belanger for a double play attempt that would have ended the inning. Normally sure handed, Belanger dropped the ball allowing the runner to score from third. Al Kaline then made the last out of the inning.

When Baltimore went down in order in the bottom of the ninth the combined no hitter was completed, albeit in a losing effort.

Every baseball game has some crazy moments, but these first two combined no-hitters have to top them all. As for the last two, the Angels game has a lot of amazing coincidences that are pretty eerie.

For example, Mike Trout hit a home run that traveled 454 feet. That’s Skaggs’ number forward and backward. So many other things happened that it is worth looking up.

You have to love baseball for all the great things that happen. From this column I take one thing in particular. Apparently Babe Ruth was the original opener!

Al Stephenson is a columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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