Cubs lefthander Jon Lester has thrown a no-hitter, May 19, 2008 against the Royals. He had a chance for another one in this game -- but no one knew until the seventh inning. Why? Read on.
After this win the Cubs were 48-41. They were nine games behind the Cardinals, 4½ games behind the Pirates, and one game ahead of the Giants for the second wild-card spot.
It's often said that if you watch baseball long enough, you will see something you have never seen before.
That was the case midway through the Cubs' 4-0 win over the Braves Saturday night.
Jon Lester was cruising through the Atlanta lineup, working on a one-hit shutout as the seventh inning began. Only then, he wasn't.
Jack Wilkinson, a long-time Atlanta sportswriter serving as official scorer for the game, changed a scoring decision he'd made in the first inning on a Nick Markakis ground ball that got past Kris Bryant into left field. There were two out in the inning at the time. While the Cubs were batting in the seventh, Wilkinson changed this call to "E-5," and presto! Lester's now working on a no-hitter, because he'd allowed no other hits and just two other baserunners (a walk, and a hit batter).
I've seen scoring decisions changed during games before, maybe an inning or two later. I've heard about scoring decisions changed when games are over, often reducing pitchers' ERAs.
But I've never seen one that created an instant no-hit bid with the pitcher suddenly needing to record only nine outs to get it. I have watched this play several times and every time I look again, I think, "Hit." Bryant waved at it, but never appeared to touch it. Here, have a look (at the time I wrote this recap, MLB wasn't allowing an embed of the video). You make the call -- vote in the poll.
Here is what Wilkinson said about his changed call:
"I just wanted to make the right call," Wilkinson said. "It wasn't like I was thinking or even saying to myself, 'My God, this guy's got a no-hitter going. I could have blown this for him.'"
The article says Wilkinson didn't even realize it would have created a no-hitter. Maybe, but if he had been that concerned about it, why did he wait six innings before changing the call?
Anyway, Lester went out for the seventh with a no-hitter going, but had no idea it was happening at the time:
#Cubs Lester didn't know he had a no-no until he was on deck to bat in 8th and looked at scoreboard— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 19, 2015
He retired all three batters in that seventh inning without incident, and was sitting at 97 pitches beginning the eighth, six outs to go for his second career no-no (the other: May 19, 2008 against the Royals).
You could have guessed who the villain would be, right? A.J. Pierzynski lined Lester's second pitch of the eighth inning into right field, a clean single. They say official scorers like the first hit of the game to be clean, so there's no question about it, particularly late in the game. Lester retired the next hitter, but when Andrelton Simmons also singled, putting the tying run on base, Joe Maddon lifted him, 110 pitches into his best outing as a Cub -- whether the first hit was in the first inning or the eighth.
About that out recorded after A.J.'s single, it was on a really nice running catch by Dexter Fowler on a ball hit by Juan Uribe that appeared headed to the gap for extra bases -- the kind of play that people would have talked about for a very long time if the no-hitter had been intact. Many no-nos have excellent defensive plays like that one.
Truth be told, Lester has been looking like the pitcher the Cubs hoped they were getting last offseason since the middle of June. Apart from a clunker against the Dodgers, he's been excellent over his last seven starts covering 45⅔ innings. He's posted a 1.97 ERA and 0.854 WHIP over that span, with just one home run allowed and 46 strikeouts. That's really good and gives the Cubs three excellent starters at the top of their rotation. Keep up the good work, Jon.
Hector Rondon retired the only two batters he faced to finish the eighth without the Braves scoring. Jason Motte, who entered the game in the ninth after the Cubs had scored a pair to put him out of a save situation, issued a two-out walk but otherwise completed the victory without incident.
The Cubs' offense struggled to get going, again. Bryant singled with two out in the third and took third when an attempted pickoff throw went wild. Anthony Rizzo singled him in for a 1-0 Cubs lead, which they extended to 2-0 in the fourth on a double by Chris Denorfia and single by Starlin Castro.
This one could have been the Cubs' fourth straight game of three or fewer runs, but they took advantage of some sloppy Atlanta defense in the ninth to score a pair. Uribe's wild throw on a potential double-play ball by Bryant allowed Fowler to score, and Bryant took third, where he scored on another single by Rizzo. The Cubs did leave nine men on base, so they could have scored more, but did go 3-for-5 with RISP. Baby steps, right?
The win evened the series, and with the Pirates' loss to the Brewers, the Cubs gained a game on them and now trail by 4½ games. They also kept their one-game lead for the second wild card spot, now ahead of the Giants. The Mets lost Saturday and so the Cubs now lead them by two games.
A series win is again possible Sunday, with Jake Arrieta facing Shelby Miller.