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Chris Heston and the Club of Rookie No-Hitters

The image of Buster Posey leaping from his catching stance and celebrating with his pitcher has become a modern tradition in baseball. Between the 3 titles won by the San Francisco Giants, and their seemingly endless array of pitching talent, there have been a lot of events worthy of charging the mound and hug. The list was expanded on June 9th, when rookie Giants pitcher Chris Heston threw the first no-hitter of the 2015 season. It marked the fourth straight year in which a Giant threw a no-no (Tim Lincecum twice, and Matt Cain’s perfect game), and the fifth overall under manager Bruce Bochy.

That the no-no came from the arm of Heston and not Madison Bumgarner, Lincecum, or another veteran stalwart has made it all the more impressive. Heston’s feat came on the road against the Mets, and the only base runners he allowed came via 3 hit batsmen. The masterpiece included 11 strikeouts and only 110 pitches, good to produce a 98 Game Score that now ranks among the best in baseball history.

Even as the Mets may not be confused as one of the league’s top offensive teams (25th in wRC+), Heston was not exactly tearing up the league prior to this matchup. Out of his first 11 starts of the season, there were already 5 in which he’d allowed at least 5 runs, and only once had gone at least 8 innings, admittedly an also masterful 1-run complete game in Houston that included 10 punch-outs. Heston’s short track record and low pedigree as a prospect now turn him into one of the unlikeliest no-hitter pitchers ever.

Even with the recent ubiquity of no-hitters (25 since 2010), Heston’s name now merits a place on the record books as one of the 245 total no-nos since 1900 – not bad for a guy who is only on the rotation because of Matt Cain’s injuries. In the process, Heston also joined a more selective list, as he became only the 12th rookie pitcher to throw a no-hitter.

Today we take a look at the previous 11 pitchers that earned this distinction, and how their career turned out. Some flamed out quickly, while some other went on to have productive careers in the league, but in the end all share a special place in baseball lore.

April 30, 1922 – Charlie Robertson

Facing the Tigers in Detroit, rookie Charlie Robertson threw an absolute gem, in what stands today as the only rookie perfect game in history. With six strikeouts, he earned a game score of 93, and the third perfect game of the 20th Century.  Robertson had debuted in a mini 2-inning stint in 1919, so he was still rookie-eligible by ‘22, which would end up being the best season of his mediocre career. Despite this early flash of brilliance, Robertson would go on to post losing seasons for 7 straight years, finishing his career in 1928 with a 49-80 record, 4.44 ERA, and a microscopic 2.8 K/9.

August 31, 1935 – Vern Kennedy

Just like Robertson before him, Vern Kennedy became another White Sox rookie with a no-hitter, albeit not as impressive. Facing the Indians at home (with shortstop Bill Knickerbocker batting sixth), Kennedy allowed 4 walks but no hits, cementing his place as a good starter. Kennedy would go on to have a long career that included 7 teams in 11 years. Despite two All-Star appearances and a sixth-place MVP finish in 1936, he still ended his time with a career losing record and a 95 ERA+.

September 3, 1947 – Bill McCahan

Pitching for the Philadelphia A’s against the extinct Washington Senators, righty Bill McMahan threw the best game of his career, an almost-perfect effort that included only 2 strikeouts and a single base runner reaching via error. Ferris Fain’s fielding miscue at first was the only damage allowed by McMahan, who otherwise relied greatly on his defense to twirl this gem. Despite his promising 10-win rookie season, injuries and ineffectiveness led McMahan to call it quits in 1949, while his 40 career starts are among the fewest among pitchers who’ve thrown a no-hitter.

May 6, 1953 – Bobo Halloman

In what may be one of the biggest flukes in the history of sports, Alva Lee “Bobo” Halloman threw a no-hitter in what was his first career start. By that point, he’d already pitched 5.1 innings in relief (with an 8.44 ERA), and came is an emergency starter for the St. Louis Browns against the A’s. Holloman’s performance was far from perfect, as he walked 5 and only got 3 K’s, but it was enough to be the one and only pitcher with a debut no-no. 1953 would be his only year in the majors, as he finished the season 3-7 with a 5.23 ERA.

May 5, 1962 – Bo Belinsky

Playing for the Angels, Belinsky was off to a great start in 1962, with the rookie entering this game with a 3-0 record. Things got even better for Bo, as he no-hit the Orioles with 9 K’s and 4 walks included. Despite his hot start, he would be caught up by the league, and finished his rookie season with a 10-11 mark and a league-leading 122 walks. This problem would resurface for Belinsky throughout his career, which finished in 1970 with a lousy 28-51 record.

September 21, 1970 – Vida Blue

After all rookie pitchers with a no-no ended up being scrubs, along came Vida Blue to buck the trend. Getting his ninth career start in only his second year in the league, Blue carved through a Twins lineup that still included Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva. His 1-walk, 9-strikeout performance yielded 95 game score that would serve as a good omen for Blue’s 1971 Cy Young and MVP season. Blue would go on to win 209 games, 6 All-Star nods, and 3 World Series titles as an integral part of the dynasty A’s of the seventies.

April 27, 1973 – Steve Busby

Facing the Tigers on the road, Royals rookie Steve Busby pitched the best game of his career,working around 6 walks to finish with a no-hitter. He had already debuted in 1972, but a low innings total kept his status as a rookie intact for ‘73. Busby struck out only 4 batters in his no-no, as his low K totals would follow him for the rest of his career. An All-Star in 1974 and 1975, Busby would battle with injuries shortly thereafter, being forced to retire by 1980, albeit with a positive 70-54 record and 105 ERA+.

July 30, 1973 – Jim Bibby

By the time of this game, Bibby was already in his second team, as he was traded from the Cardinals to the Rangers mid-season. His rookie status still stood, as he faced none other than Vida Blue and the A’s. Facing a lineup that included Reggie hitting cleanup, Bibby delivered one of the weirdest no-hitters ever, with 6 walks and 13 strikeouts (Reggie walked twice and struck out twice). Bibby’s career would then take time to developed, peaking in 1980, when was an All-Star and finished third in Cy Young voting. He would retire in 1984 with a career 111-101 record.

September 29, 1983 – Mike Warren

In his last start of an uneven rookie season, Warren pitched the best game of his brief career by shutting out the 99-win White Sox, who’d go on to lose in the ALCS. Warren’s outing included 3 walks and 5 strikeouts, which makes it as unremarkable as the rest of his playing days. Despite showing some promise, Warren would only scatter 18 more starts in the majors, ending his career in 1985 with a 9-13 mark and a 5.06 ERA.

August 11, 1991 – Wilson Alvarez

In his first start of 1991, and only then second of his career, Venezuela native Wilson Alvarez dominated the Cal Ripken-led Orioles at old Memorial Stadium. The no-hitter included 5 walks and 7 strikeouts on 128 pitches, and cemented Alvarez’s status as the only foreign-born rookie with a no-no in his resume. His career totaled 14 years and 5 teams, and while his superficial numbers may seem like much, he was above-average for his era. A 102-92 record with 25 WAR are way better results than most achieve.

September 1, 2007 – Clay Buchholz

Also in only his second career start, Clay Buchholz dazzled the home crowd at Fenway by no-hitting the lowly Orioles and a lineup full of scrubs. With 3 walks and 9 K’s, the performance remains the best of Buchholz’s career – one that has been marked by frustrating inconsistency. Despite 69 wins and a World Series under his belt, Buchholz has accrued 9.9 of his 13.6 career WAR in two great seasons, sandwiched by endless injuries, mediocrity, and failed expectations. He is already 30 years old, so the time might be running out for Boston fans who still think of him as a potential ace.


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