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Monday, July 20, 2009

Jonathan Sanchez' Johnny Vander Meer Moment

Posted By on Mon, Jul 20, 2009 at 2:59 PM

click to enlarge The Boy Who Lived, Jonathan Sanchez
  • The Boy Who Lived, Jonathan Sanchez
When the Giants' Jonathan Sanchez powered a devastating slider past a prone Everth Cabrera for the last out of his masterful July 10 no-hitter, two storylines were hatched almost simultaneously. The first, naturally, was: "Holy crap! The first Giants' no-hitter in 33 years!" And the second, which followed perhaps a nanosecond later, was "Can you believe a guy who'd been pitching like crap all year tossed a no-hitter?"

In retrospect, that second storyline was bogus -- as even a cursory examination of baseball statistics would have revealed. The list of pitchers who, for one night, have channeled a denizen of Mount Olympus and tossed a no-no is less exclusive than you'd think. Since June 15, 1938 -- and we'll reveal the significance of that date momentarily -- 142 different no-hit games have been hurled in the Major Leagues (not counting combined no-hitters). Glancing up and down the ledger you do see your Nolan Ryans, your Juan Marichals, and your Sandy Koufaxes (Koufaxim?) -- but you also find the likes of Bill Monbouquette (career record: 5-8), Bobo Holloman (career: 3-7), and Bud Smith (Career: 7-8 and out of baseball a year after his biggest game).

So for a mediocre -- or even sub-par -- pitcher to turn divine for a night is just one more quirk in a game where the best players fail more often than they succeed. Sanchez may yet become a great pitcher, and he'll always be remembered by Giants fans as the man who broke the team's 33-year schnide. But when he takes the ball this afternoon in Atlanta, he'll have the chance to join a truly elite list: Only Johnny Vander Meer has ever tossed consecutive no-hitters -- on June 11 and 15, 1938. Is there room for another Johnny in this club? As Vander Meer himself put it: "Kids are always chasing rainbows. Baseball is a world where you can catch them."    

Incidentally, many baseball fans know of Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters. Fewer recall that he never again came close to tossing a no-no in his long career -- and finished his tenure in the big leagues with more losses than wins (119-121).

Finally, as Giants fans know, the only reason Sanchez isn't on the rather short list of pitchers who have tossed "perfect games" -- in which not a single opponent makes it to first base -- is because of an eighth-inning error by third baseman Juan Uribe during the no-hit bid. 

Glancing up and down the list, very few pitchers who weren't blessed with supreme talent and/or longevity ever managed to toss a perfect game. Perhaps the most famous exception is also responsible for the most famous of perfect games: Yankee Don Larsen's gem against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series.

So, as a fan, it hurts to realize that Sanzhez -- through no fault of his own -- was denied a chance at baseball immortality. On the other hand, the sight of him embracing his tearful father reminds us that there are some things you just can't keep track of via statistics -- and some lists that are more personal than others.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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