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Pitchers tip collective caps to another no-no

Pitchers tip collective caps to another no-no

The season-long storming of no-hit heaven continued, with Matt Garza becoming the fifth pitcher to break through the pearly gates.

Garza's near-perfect no-hitter on Monday night against the Tigers at Tropicana Field affixed another exclamation point to a season commandeered by pitchers, and his former manager got in a good quip at the right-hander's expense.

"We taught that guy everything he knows," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said with a laugh. "I'm happy for Garz. We always talk about baseball being a cyclical game. It runs in cycles, and I don't think there is an explanation for [why] all of a sudden there are so many no-hitters. If you would have told me that the Tampa Bay Rays would get no-hit twice this year, no way. Not with that lineup, that team and that speed. So it just runs in cycles. I don't know if there is any explanation for it."

More than two months remain for baseball to match and surpass the record number of no-hitters in a season during the modern era, seven in both 1990 and 1991. And the all-time record of eight, set in 1884, isn't safe, either. Given pitchers' unrelenting assault on no-hit fame, that standard could fall before temperatures do.

"It isn't strange to see one now," said White Sox lefty John Danks. "There was usually maybe one, maybe two at the most a year, and to have five at this point is pretty darn impressive."

"It's pretty impressive that there have been five no-hitters already. The couple of perfect games -- almost three [Detroit right-hander Armando Galarraga's close call] -- is even more impressive," said Cleveland's Jake Westbrook, one of the few pitchers this season not to have a no-hitter.

Just kidding.

But if all of the pitchers who have thrown no-hitters hold an offseason reunion, they will clearly need a bigger place than they would have before this season.

The numbers, most of them zeroes, are piling up as testimony that this season belongs to pitchers. Perhaps nothing makes that statement stronger than the fact that the Rays have become the first team since the dead-ball era to be involved in three official no-hitters in one season.

It happened only once before, in 1917, when the St. Louis Browns (two) and the Chicago White Sox swapped no-hitters three times. So why is it happening now? If you ask Dodgers manager Joe Torre -- who has spent more than five decades in the game as a player, manager and broadcaster -- there's a fairly simple explanation.

"My theory is, there's a pretty good crop of young pitchers," said Torre. "And guys don't care if they strike out anymore. They get two strikes and they swing from their rear ends. That plays into the pitcher's hands when they do that. Other than that, it's a freaky year. Even if you say it's the testing [for performance-enhancing drugs], that's for home runs. Not for this, and these are no-hitters. There's a lot of luck involved."

That theory only gains more traction when you examine the teams involved.

Tampa Bay fell to Dallas Braden's perfect game (May 9 in Oakland) and was no-hit by Arizona's Edwin Jackson (June 25 at Tropicana Field) before Garza responded with the first no-hitter in the club's 13-year history.

This, incidentally, leaves the 49-year-old Mets and 42-year-old Padres on the short, shrinking list of teams to never have had a pitcher throw a no-hitter. The Nationals have yet to toss a no-hitter since making the move from Montreal. Four Expos threw no-hitters.

Garza crossed his Rays off that list a month after seeing former teammate Jackson haunt his old team, and six days after being ripped by the Orioles for 10 hits and seven runs in 6 1/3 innings.

"The more you try, the more it goes bad," Garza said of the popular notion that he always takes no-hit stuff to the mound. "You just go out there and hope it catches on. We witnessed that tonight."

Before we witnessed the season's fifth no-hitter, we witnessed the 14th instance of a no-hitter being taken into the eighth -- in itself a remarkable trend. During the entire 2009 season, there were eight such threats.

"Now it seems like there are three guys in every rotation with dominant stuff," said veteran Milwaukee lefty Randy Wolf. "Guys throwing 94, 95, 96 [mph] with great offspeed pitches. It's impressive to see the turnaround from when I came up [in 1999], when the game was very offensive, with a lot of homers. The pitching then wasn't nearly as strong as it is now."

"I don't have an explanation for it. But certainly, it's dominated," added Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who has seen the game change over the decades. "I played one year where .301 led the American League in hitting. There are years when pitching dominates and years when hitting dominates. This year you notice pitchers have made a lot more headlines than hitters."

And if you ask Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker, it all stems from personnel. Batting orders have gotten tougher and deeper, Baker said, and the game's evolution leaves out an archetype of the player perhaps most likely to break up a no-hit bid.

"The guys that break up no-hitters a lot of the time are slap hitters and guys that bunt and stuff," said Baker. "Very few guys are strict slap opposite-field hitters, and very few guys bunt. If you're up there slugging, then you make yourself susceptible for that. Plus, these guys are dealing. Expansion diluted pitching. Now it looks like it's back strong again."

Indeed it does, and there doesn't seem to be any ready-made antidote. Danks -- who watched fellow lefty Mark Buehrle toss a perfect game against the Rays last July 23 -- is tempted to fantasize about his own no-hitter.

"I can't even fathom throwing a no-hitter," he said. "I can't imagine how that would feel. I was talking to Mark about it, and he said it was indescribable. I can't imagine doing it. It'd be fun one day."

This is 2010. Make that any day.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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