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Shelby Miller and the Modern History of Almost No-Hitters

On November 17th of last year, the Braves and Cardinals completed one of the rare trades involving ready-made major leaguers straight-up. In what was then becoming a clear rebuilding effort, Atlanta shipped Jason Heyward, one of the league's elite defenders with one year left before free agency, and got Shelby Miller from the Cardinals. Miller left St. Louis as a slightly above-average pitcher with limited upside, but with 3 additional years of team control. At the moment, the deal was analyzed as a fair trade for both sides.

On Sunday, May 17th of the present season, Miller came one batter away from a masterful no-hitter, and even then he ended up with a Maddux (complete game shutout in under 100 pitches). This was probably the pinnacle for Miller, who has made the Braves look like the clear winners of the trade, especially after Heyward has struggled at the plate in St. Louis. A possible no-hitter for the Braves righty would have been quite unconventional, as he only racked up four strikeouts and was due to face the minimum, as his only walk was erased by a double play.

Alas, Miller came oh so close to immortality, and he joins the ranks of the pitchers who lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning. This list includes famous pitchers and recognizable games, like Jim Bouton (author of the infamous Ball Four), the wonderfully named Blue Moon Odom, Hall of Famers like Juan Marichal and Tom Seaver (who suffered this fate twice), and even Nolan Ryan, who came incredibly close to reaching double-digits career no-hitters.

Shelby Miller became the 18th pitcher since 1990 to lose a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth, with five of them having the additional bad luck of ruining potential perfect games. Today we take a look at the last 10 instances in which history was almost made before it was all lost at the final moment.

May 16, 1997 – Alan Benes vs Braves

In terms of uniqueness, this might be the ultimate almost no-hitter, as Alan Benes entered the bottom of the ninth with a scoreless tie, no hits allowed, 2 walks, and 10 strikeouts. Even if he had completed the inning without a hit, he would have still needed his teammates to score a run in the 10th and come back to earn the feat. Alas, Michael Tucker doubled with two outs, but he was stranded and the game headed to extras. Benes was relieved, and his fellow pitchers allowed six additional hits before losing in walk-off fashion in the 12th inning.

September 27, 1998 – Roy Halladay vs Tigers

In what was only his second career start, rookie Roy Halladay showed the potential of what he would becoming by plowing through the Tigers lineup that was admittedly full of September call-ups. Tony Clark had been the only base runner in the game, as he reached via error in the fifth, leaving Halladay with the chance of an almost perfect game. Bobby Higginson entered with two outs as a pinch hitter, and blasted the first pitch he saw for a homer that ended the no-hitter and the shutout. Halladay retired the next batter, and would get the last laugh years later, with a perfect game to his name and only the second playoff no-hitter in history.

September 2, 2001 – Mike Mussina vs Red Sox

In a nationally televised Sunday Night game, Mussina delivered the best game of his career, with 13 strikeouts and no base runners through 8.2 innings. He had already lost a perfect game bid with 1 out in the ninth in 1997, but this time it all looked in place to make history. Carl Everett came in as a pinch hitter, and lifted a 0-1 fastball to a bloop hit that dropped in front of Bernie Williams to again deny Mussina. It's tempting to think that his career would be viewed differently had he completed at least one of these masterpieces.

June 7, 2007 – Curt Schilling vs Athletics

Schilling was in line to earn a nearly perfect game, as Dan Johnson had been the only Oakland hitter to reach base, and he did so via error in the fifth inning. The Red Sox righty was masterful but efficient that night, only striking out four and relying on his defense in this tight 1-0 game. Entering the ninth, it all seemed aligned for Schilling's first career no-hitter. Alas, Shannon Stewart swung at the first pitch and placed the ball in right field. Schilling completed the shutout, and later that year celebrated a World Series title for Boston.

June 2, 2010 – Armando Galarraga vs Indians

Even five years later, this one is still tough to remember. The little-heralded Galarraga had the best day of his career on that evening, retiring the first 26 Indians with only 83 pitches and three strikeouts. It was not overpowering, it was only a masterpiece that would have been remembered in history as one of the unlikeliest perfect games. Jason Donald grounded out routinely to first, but Miguel Cabrera took his time while Galarraga covered first, leading to a close play at the bag that was called safe by umpire Jim Joyce. Upon further review, the runner was clearly out, but it didn't matter, as the bid for perfection was lost. In a cruel twist of fate, both Donald and Galarraga would be out of baseball by 2012.

August 8, 2010 – Brandon Morrow vs Rays

When Brandon Morrow is mentioned among the biggest “what-if” pitchers of his generation, just go back to this game and be reminded why. The oft-injured righty was at his best that afternoon, with 16 strikeouts and 2 walks in his line as he was about to complete a no-hitter. With a runner on first, Evan Longoria (who had already struck out twice) barely ripped a 1-1 fastball past the second baseman and ended the no-hit bid. The game was 1-0 at that point, but Morrow kept his poise and struck out his 17th victim to seal the shutout and the win for Toronto. His 100 game score remains one of the best of the 21st century.

July 9, 2011 – Aaron Harang and 4 relievers vs Dodgers

This one holds a few similarities to the 1997 Alan Benes game, as the Padres went on the road and had the Dodgers hitless through 8.2 innings. However, that effort had required the services of 5 pitchers, starting with Aaron Harang and his 95 pitches through six innings, followed by Josh Spence, Chad Qualls, Mike Adams, and Luke Gregerson. The full work had rendered five walks and 8 K's, so it was far from a masterpiece. Gregerson quickly retired the ninth's first two hitters, but the magic was lost to a double by Juan Uribe, only to be followed by a walk-off single from Dioner Navarro. The Padres are still without a no-hitter or a cycle in their history.

April 2, 2013 – Yu Darvish vs Astros

2013 was a tough year for almost no-hitters, as it had three instances of a potential no-hitter lost at the last possible moment (it also had two more no-hitters lost in the ninth, albeit with 3 achieved no-nos). Yu Darvish plowed through the overmatched Astros on this day, and had 110 pitches and 14 strikeouts to show for it as he looked primed for a perfect game. However, Marwin Gonzalez ripped a first-pitch change-up through Darvish's legs to end up the perfecto and deny Darvish. Michael Kirkman came in relief to end the game by recording the final out, and even as he has been close many times, Darvish still looks for his first no-hitter.

September 6, 2013 – Yusmeiro Petit vs Diamondbacks

In what looked to join Phil Humber as one of the weirdest perfect games ever, spot starter Yusmeiro Petit had a full count on Eric Chavez with two outs in the ninth facing a full crowd in San Francisco. 92 pitches had yielded 7 strikeouts and no base runners for Arizona, who was about to become yet another victim of a Giants no-hitter, but Chavez hit a line drive that stayed in the air enough time to be considered catchable, but Hunter Pence came an inch short of the ball, ending the magic. Petit retired the next batter to finish the game, and in 2014 would set a major-league record of 46 straight retired hitters between his work in the rotation and the bullpen, while also being an essential part of the World Series champions.

September 24, 2013 – Michael Wacha vs Nationals

In only his 15th career start, rookie Michael Wacha dismantled the Nationals for 8.2 innings, to the tune of only 2 walks and 9 strikeouts and a bid for a no-hitter. Going after the first pitch, Ryan Zimmerman hit a slow bouncer that just got out of reach from Wacha, prompting shortstop Pete Kozma to charge and throw off-balance, nearly getting Zimmerman. Alas, it was a clean hit and not an error, leaving Wacha even shy of his first career shutout, as he was relieved by closer Trevor Rosenthal to end the game.


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