In a two-week stretch of the interleague schedule (through Friday), eight games were decided by a 1-0 score. The eighth game was a no-hitter that Edwin Jackson pitched for the Diamondbacks against the Rays last Friday night. It was the second no-hitter among 25 1-0 games this season.
The Mariners defeated the Reds by that score twice in three days during the interleague stretch. The Blue Jays lost a pair of 1-0 decisions. So did the Nationals four days apart, one of them Stephen Strasburg’s first major league loss.
The White Sox won one 1-0 game and lost another, the winning game featuring a double bid for a no-hitter into the seventh inning by Ted Lilly and Gavin Floyd.
Two weeks before the interleague run Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game in a 1-0 Phillies’ win over the Marlins. That game came three weeks after Dallas Braden pitched a perfect game for the Athletics, marking the first time in history that two perfect games were pitched in the same season.
But three perfect games have actually been pitched this season. The one the Tigers’ Armando Galarraga pitched four days after Halladay’s was negated by Jim Joyce’s admittedly wrong call on what should have been the 27th out on the 27th batter.
Throw in the routine no-hitters that Ubaldo Jimenez pitched earlier in the season and Jackson gained despite 8 walks and 149 pitches, not even including Galarraga’s game, and the majors have had the most no-hitters in a season since 1991.
Even the number of 1-0 games is up. Last year at this time there had been 19 played; this season there have been 25.
Other signs have appeared demonstrating the dilution of hitting. The Mets shut out the Phillies, supposedly one of baseball’s best hitting teams, in all three games of a three-game series the last week of May. One day In April the Mets and the Cardinals played 18 innings – the duration of two full games — before either team scored a run.
Scoring has fallen significantly. Last season teams averaged 9.23 runs and 2.07 home runs a game. This season, before the weekend, those figures were 8.95 and 1.85, the first time since 1992 that teams have averaged fewer than 9 runs a game and the first time since 1993 that they have averaged fewer than 2 home runs a game.
“The major reason is lack of hitting and great pitching” said Tim McCarver, the former catcher and currently the articulate analyst for Fox telecasts of major league games.
McCarver isn’t ready to subscribe to the popular theory that the reduction in hitting can be attributed to the absence of steroids and amphetamines from major league clubhouses.
“It’s the post-steroids era,” McCarver said, “but wouldn’t you have to include pitchers in that? Maybe hitters are affected more than pitchers by not taking steroids.”
If the drug-related theory has any validity, it may be that the absence of amphetamines has had a greater effect than the disappearance of steroids. Players used “greenies” for pep and energy, to sustain them over a long season. and pitchers may feel their loss less because they don’t play every day.
Drugs, however, weren’t my primary reason for calling McCarver. Bob Gibson was. I tried reaching Gibson, but his wife, who answered each time I called, said, “He knows you called, but he probably isn’t going to call back.” At the age of 74, Gibson might have lost his fastball, but he hasn’t lost his aversion to talking to baseball writers.
Fortunately, McCarver has never suffered from that aversion and readily talked about his former teammate and batterymate.
“People talk about his velocity and his breaking ball,” McCarver said. “I’ve seen pitchers throw harder than Gibson, but I’ve never seen a pitcher whose fastball exploded in the strike zone the way his did. My thumb is deformed. Gibson did all the damage to my hand. You could never center the ball. I knew what was coming and if I couldn’t center the ball and catch it, you can imagine hitters’ trouble in centering the ball and hitting it.”
Hitters especially had trouble hitting Gibson’s pitches in 1968. It was Gibson’s dominance of National League hitters that season that was primarily responsible for one of the most significant changes in baseball history — lowering the height of the mound from 15 inches to 10. Reducing the slope of the mound reduced the advantage that pitchers had over hitters.
Gibson wasn’t the only outstanding pitcher that season; Denny McLain won 31 games, Juan Marichal won 26 and had 30 complete games, Luis Tiant had a 1.60 earned run average. But Gibson was incredible, starting with his 1.12 e.r.a. He also won 22 games, pitched 28 complete games and led the league with 13 shutouts and 268 strikeouts.
“I spent 1968 catching Gibson and hitting against Marichal,” McCarver said. “The next year the mound was lowered and I thought it was unfair. Hitters started hitting and baseball didn’t do anything to help the pitchers. Gibson, to this day is mad at Major League Baseball for doing that.
“He won 20 the next year, but he was affected. He was angry and I don’t blame him. He said ‘This is my business and you have come in and changed my livelihood.’ He had a valid point. The owners wanted to add more offense, but it had to be fair to both sides and I don’t believe it was.”
Having experienced the reaction to the pitching domination in 1968, McCarver hopes there won’t be a repeat as a result of this season. “It’s only been two months,” he said, “but I’m sure the alarmists are thinking what can we do to improve offense in the game?”
If any baseball people are thinking such thoughts, they are not thinking them aloud. The commissioner’s committee on all matters baseball has not raised the matter, Frank Robinson, a member of the committee, said.
“I haven’t thought about it and the committee hasn’t discussed it,” said Robinson, who is also the newly named senior vice president of Major League Baseball operations.
Robinson’s boss, Commissioner Bud Selig, isn’t jumping to find a quick fix for a problem he doesn’t know exists.
“We live in a life of cycles,” Selig said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people. Some have attributed it to the amphetamines and steroids ban, but I’m not concerned. It’s their view, but I haven’t heard any empirical data. You have no idea that’s the way it is.”
Might the lighter hitting be a result of better pitching? “I’ve talked to the people on my committee, including the managers, and there’s no common view,” Selig said. “Today the pitching is good but is it the reason? I don’t have any idea of asking the committee to look into it. No one has a consistent view.”
And, he added, “I have no intention to change anything. Zero.”
PERFECTION PAYS NO DIVIDENDS
Perfect games have not been followed by perfection by any means this season. Dallas Braden has not won any of his eight starts since he pitched a perfect game against Tampa Bay May 9. He has lost five times.
Roy Halladay has started five games since his perfect game against Florida May 29 and has a 2-3 record in spite of a 3.00 e.r.a.
Armando Galarraga, who did but didn’t pitch a perfect game against Cleveland June 2, has started four games since, winning only one while compiling a 4.70 e.r.a.
On the subject of perfection, Kenshin Kawakami of Atlanta lost his perfect record Saturday by beating Detroit. Kawakami, who had a 0-9 record in his first 14 starts, held the Tigers to one run and two hits in seven innings for his first victory.
Kawakami, a serious contender for our Sigh Young award, had incurred the most losses without a win. That distinction now shifts to Ross Ohlendorf of Pittsburgh, who has six losses.
LORIA SENDING VALENTINE CARD
When Bobby Valentine is named manager of the Florida Marlins, as he is expected to be this week, the personnel of the other 29 teams – well, maybe some of the other 29 teams – will breathe easily, knowing that Valentine will not be hired to manage their team.
That goes for players, coaches and front-office employees. The strong aversion to Valentine actually extends beyond club walls. The wife of a general manager once told him if he hired Valentine to manage the team, she would leave him.
It is managers, on the other hand, who leave the Marlins at their owner’s request. Jeffrey Loria fancies himself as talented at running a baseball organization as he is adept at buying and selling international art, but earlier this year he became baseball’s most notorious welfare cheat.
Under threat of a union grievance, Loria agreed to spend his revenue-sharing proceeds as he is supposed to and not for purposes unrelated to the improvement of the Marlins.
Now Loria has fired his manager, Fredi Gonzalez, just as he fired Joe Girardi a few years ago and just as he fired Jeff Torborg a few years before that. To Loria’s credit, his dismissal of Torborg in 2003 and hiring of Jack McKeon to replace him led to the Marlins’ World Series championship.
However, Torborg had left a nice television job because he was doing a friend a favor. Some friend Loria turned out to be.
Now Loria and Valentine are said to be long-time friends. As someone once said about another owner and a player, the two of them deserve each other.
Gonzalez did not deserve to be fired. But Loria might actually have done him a favor. Third base coach under Bobby Cox for four seasons in Atlanta, Gonzalez could return to the Braves and, in effect, be their manager in waiting if they so desire. Cox announced last winter that he would retire after this season.