If there seems to be a daily no-hitter in Major League Baseball this season — well, there almost is. But no Yankees pitcher had performed the feat in this century until Wednesday. Now baseball’s marquee franchise has gotten in on the fun.
The veteran right-hander Corey Kluber twirled a masterpiece in Arlington, Texas, for a 2-0 victory over the Texas Rangers. In his ninth start as a Yankee, Kluber struck out nine and walked one for the Yankees’ first no-hitter since David Cone’s perfect game in 1999 and the 12th in franchise history.
“There’s guys that go out there with unbelievable stuff certain nights and they’re probably able to, but it might be something like a broken-bat bloop falling in,” said Kluber, who added that he had never witnessed a no-hitter, let alone thrown one. “There’s a lot of things that have to go your way. It’s definitely cool to do it in this uniform.”
As rare as they have been for the Yankees, no-hitters have become increasingly common around the majors. Kluber’s gem was the sixth already this season, and it came less than 24 hours after Spencer Turnbull of the Detroit Tigers no-hit the Mariners in Seattle.
San Diego’s Joe Musgrove, the Chicago White Sox’ Carlos Rodon, Baltimore’s John Means and Cincinnati’s Wade Miley have also thrown no-hitters in 2021, and Arizona’s Madison Bumgarner did it in a seven-inning game that is not officially recognized as a no-hitter by M.L.B.
The Rangers, the Mariners and Cleveland have each been no-hit twice this season, with Musgrove hurling the first no-hitter in Padres history in Arlington last month. The modern-era record for no-hitters in a season is seven — in 1990, 1991, 2012 and 2015 — and there were eight in 1884. The way things are going lately, pitchers could pass both marks by the end of the weekend.
“First and foremost, there’s a lot of great pitchers right now; pitching is really good,” said Yankees Manager Aaron Boone. “I think pitchers — more than ever, based on information — know exactly what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are. They’re outfitted with the absolute right repertoire for their skill set, so you don’t have a lot of guys going out there throwing pitches that they probably shouldn’t throw, because you can analyze everything so much.
“You’re able to make little adjustments and learn things in real time, almost, with how the ball spins and what you should be doing a little different. And then I think the game plans are a lot more spot-on than ever, probably.”
Yet while pitching may be morphing into science more than art, the no-hitter remains one of baseball’s quirky delights, with no advance warning and no predetermined pedigree for those who pull it off. The feat has eluded some of the game’s most accomplished pitchers, including the Mets’ Jacob deGrom, the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, Houston’s Zack Greinke and Cleveland’s Shane Bieber.
Many of the most hallowed names ever to take the mound also never did it, like Grover Cleveland Alexander, Steve Carlton, Roger Clemens, Lefty Grove, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez, who once threw nine perfect innings before allowing a hit in the 10th.
For Kluber, 35, the return to dominance was hard-earned. He was probably the American League’s best pitcher for five years with Cleveland, winning two Cy Young Awards while going 83-45 with a 2.85 earned run average from 2014 through 2018. But a line drive fractured his pitching arm early in 2019, and he worked just one inning for the Rangers last summer before tearing a muscle near his shoulder in Arlington.
The Yankees signed him as a free agent for one year and $11 million, and Kluber has responded by going 4-2 with a 2.86 earned run average. His fastball is slower than before, but his signature, sweeping breaking ball is restored.
“I’ve probably been getting more and more comfortable with it as far as throwing the right one when I want to land it for a strike, the right one when I want to try to get a swing on it, the right one when I want to get a chase on it, that sort of stuff,” Kluber said. “Not saying that I execute every one the way I want to, but I think just on a more consistent basis, I’m kind of throwing it where and the way that I want to.”
Only Charlie Culberson reached base off Kluber, drawing a four-pitch walk in the third inning. A pinch-hitter, David Dahl, drove a liner to right with one out in the ninth, but Tyler Wade, who usually plays the infield, chased it down on the run. Willie Calhoun then grounded out to shortstop Gleyber Torres — who was shifted to the right side of the infield — for the final out.
With that, Kluber joined the relatively short list of Yankees to throw a no-hitter, including George Mogridge (1917), Sad Sam Jones (1923), Monte Pearson (1938), Allie Reynolds (two in 1951), Don Larsen (1956 World Series), Dave Righetti (1983), Jim Abbott (1993), Dwight Gooden (1996), David Wells (1998) and Cone. Larsen, Wells and Cone threw perfect games.
“It was almost like what you would imagine the feeling like after you win the World Series,” catcher Kyle Higashioka said. “It was a crazy, euphoric feeling. He lifted me off the ground pretty hard, so I could tell he was pumped.”
Even so, Kluber’s robotic stoicism was in top form most of the night. Though he said he had to take a breath before the bottom of the ninth, Kluber insisted he did not reflect on the setting until after the game. He triumphed on Wednesday at the very site of his injury last season, as Robinson Chirinos, the injured Yankees catcher and his former Rangers teammate, playfully reminded him.
“Congratulations,” Kluber said Chirinos told him. “A lot better than the last time you were on the mound here.”