Walker Buehler pitched six no-hit innings for the Dodgers Friday night, against the Padres. It took him 93 pitches to get through six; the most he’s thrown in a game this season is 94; 93 pitches is more than twice as many as he threw in any game last season, when he made his MLB debut and eight total appearances. Walker Buehler was never going to finish this no-hitter, is what I’m saying.
But that didn’t mean the no-hitter couldn’t be finished! In fact, a succession of relievers brought it home: Tony Cingrani worked around a couple walks in the seventh; Yimi Garcia worked a perfect eighth; Adam Liberatore worked a perfect ninth, and the Dodgers completed the franchise’s first combined no-hitter in its 135-year history:
Though it has somewhat less narrative coherence than a solo no-hitter, a combined no-hitter is extremely rare—this was the first since September 2014, and just the fourth of this millennium. Four pitchers is a healthy number for a combined no-no, but not the most—according to Baseball Reference, two six-pitcher no-hitters split the cake: an Astros no-no started by Roy Oswalt in 2003; and a Mariners no-no started by Kevin Millwood in 2012.
This was just Buehler’s third start in the majors. He pitched from the bullpen in his limited action last season, and is a few years removed from Tommy John surgery in 2015. He is now 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in those starts. Buehler wanted to stay on the mound, of course—he called the decision by manager Dave Roberts to remove him “the toughest one of those conversations I’ve ever had”—but understood the rationale. Per the Los Angeles Times:
“He was totally complicit,” Roberts said. “Just understood where I was coming from, understood where the organization was coming from, what impact he has, how important he is for the organization this year, and going forward.”
No-hitters and perfect games are obviously a ton of fun, and the reward for watching one is a narrative arc that builds drama all the way to the final pitch without necessarily requiring that the game itself supply any scoreboard tension. And usually there’s a nice celebration and Gatorade bath or shaving cream pie for whatever pitcher earned his way into the record book. And who doesn’t love a good shaving cream pie to the face, I ask you.
The combined no-hitter removes some of the personal drama from the story—no lone hero embarking on his third pass through the opposing lineup, with a limited arsenal of pitches and a climbing pitch-count and a tiring arm—but has the added thrill of multiple different pitchers taking the baton of not just a winning pitching performance but a potentially historic one, and trying not to fuck it up as the pressure mounts:
“I knew the position I was in going into that last inning,” Liberatore said. “I just wanted to give it my best effort. Really, throwing every pitch as hard as I could, trying to execute: Get three outs without giving up a hit.”
287 solo no-hitters and perfect games have been thrown in baseball’s long history. The Dodgers’ gave us just the 12th combined no-hitter, and that’s cool as hell.