By Michael Levitt
On Sunday, Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner threw what you would think would be a no-hitter. Bumgarner gave up no hits over the entirety of the game against the Atlanta Braves. And it was a no-hitter, just not officially.
Because of Major League Baseball’s decision to continue having games in doubleheaders be seven innings, it complicates the matter of what constitutes an official no-hitter. According to the league’s current rules, “an official no-hitter occurs when a pitcher (or pitchers) allows no hits during the entire course of a game, which consists of at least nine innings.”
The problem with Bumgarner’s no-hitter was that it occurred in a seven-inning game. The Diamondbacks and Braves had their game on Saturday postponed because of rain, so instead the two teams played a doubleheader on Sunday. Bumgarner was also an error away from a perfect game during the shortened contest, though that would also have been unofficial.
What makes the league’s no-hitter rule seem counterintuitive is that a pitcher still gets credit for a complete game and a shutout in a shortened game but does not for a no-hitter or perfect game. It would make a lot more sense to either have the pitcher get credit for all the stats that need a completed game or none of them. To count a pitcher, like in Bumgarner’s case, getting a complete game and shutout during a scheduled seven-inning game but not a no-hitter or perfect game is not only counterintuitive, but also contradictory. It can confuse fans if only some stats are counted from a game and takes away from the impressiveness of the feat.
Bumgarner is not the first pitcher to have a no-hitter in a completed game of less than seven innings, though he is the first with the new doubleheader rule. If Major League Baseball had not changed their definition of a no-hitter in 1991, Bumgarner’s masterpiece of a game would go down in history as another part of Bumgarner’s impressive Hall of Fame resumé. The league had previously defined a no-hitter as any game with no hits for a team for nine innings or the entire game. So, Bumgarner has not been the only one affected by the rule change.
The most recent pitcher to have a no-hitter in a complete game that lasted less than nine innings was Boston Red Sox pitcher Devern Hansack, who only pitched in nine games in his Major League career, starting three of them. Hansack pitched a five-inning no-hitter in 2006 before the game was stopped because of rain. Because the game had already gotten through five innings, it was considered a complete game and Hansack did not get a chance to continue his chance at history. Hansack’s feat is even more impressive because he was a September callup that year and it was only his second start and second game pitched in the majors. The game was right at the end of the season, so he did not get a chance to have another start that season. The next season, Hansack started the year in the minor leagues but was called up to the majors a couple times throughout the season, pitching in three games and starting one. After pitching in four more Major League games in 2008, Hansack did not pitch in the majors again.
This shows the randomness of a no-hitter. You would expect pitchers who were great to be more likely to have a no-hitter or perfect game. However, because it takes place in just one game, it is a lot more up to chance than other baseball feats like a hit streak or strikeouts in a season. A pitcher must be good enough to keep their spot on the roster, but they could be dominant for one game and it could be enough to make their place in the record books.
It is possible that Major League Baseball changes the definition of an official no-hitter again at some point, maybe even because of the seven-inning doubleheader rule. It would make sense to do so since seven-inning games are part of the league rules now and are not only because of weather restrictions. They have said so far that they have no plans to do so any time soon, but they could change their minds depending on the public’s response and the response around the league.
Edited by Emma Moloney