First-year no-hitter is hardly a first

The Baltimore Sun

No-hitter by first-year pitcher is hardly a first When former Orioles outfielder Eric Byrnes grounded out with two outs in the top of the ninth Wednesday night in Miami, Florida Marlins right-hander Anibal Sanchez made history.

He also joined an elite club that is not exactly brimming with elite names.

With his performance against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Sanchez, 22, became apparently the 18th rookie to throw a no-hitter since 1907, when the Pittsburgh Pirates' Nick Maddox accomplished the feat. (The number itself fluctuates based on interpretation of rookie qualifications in the first half of the last century. Elias Sports Bureau, for instance, doesn't acknowledge a specific number of no-hitting rookies.)

Maddox won only 43 games in a four-year career - a fairly typical trajectory for pitchers who have no-hit an opponent in their rookie seasons.

Before Sanchez, the previous rookie to do it was the St. Louis Cardinals' Bud Smith, then 21, on Sept. 3, 2001, against the San Diego Padres. Smith, once a vaunted prospect, has just seven career victories due to arm trouble and spent this season pitching in the independent Golden Baseball League with the Long Beach Armada, Jose Canseco's team.

Before Smith, another ex-Cardinal, Jose Jimenez, threw a no-hitter as a rookie in 1999. Jimenez pitched seven years in the majors and was a pretty solid closer for the Colorado Rockies earlier this decade. But he started just seven more games after 1999.

"[A rookie no-hitter] is not necessarily a guarantee that you'll have a long and successful career," said Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan.

Flanagan was an Orioles reliever in August 1991 when his team was no-hit by Chicago White Sox 21-year-old rookie Wilson Alvarez.

"I remember saying early in the game that he had good stuff, a real good slider, that day," Flanagan said.

Sanchez, like Alvarez a native Venezuelan, can take comfort in his countryman's career. Although Alvarez didn't fulfill his immense early promise, he had a solid and lengthy tenure in the majors. He pitched 14 seasons, twice won 15 games, made one All-Star appearance and retired in 2005 with 102 career wins.

The best of the modern era's no-hitting rookies is Vida Blue, a six-time All-Star who won 209 games in 17 seasons. Blue, as a 21-year-old left-hander with the Oakland Athletics, no-hit the Minnesota Twins on Sept. 21, 1970. The next season, he won 24 games and the American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards.

Former All-Stars Burt Hooton, Steve Busby and Don Wilson also threw no-hitters as rookies. Busby and Wilson each had two in their careers.

The most improbable rookie to throw a no-hitter was the St. Louis Browns' Alva Lee Holloman, and not just because he was known in most circles as "Bobo."

Holloman's career lasted 22 games and 10 starts - all in 1953. He was 30 and had an ERA of nearly 9.00 in two relief appearances when he made his first start, no-hitting the Philadelphia Athletics on May 6, 1953. He had three RBIs and his only two big league hits in the game. His career ended just two months later, with a 3-7 record and a 5.23 ERA.

Perhaps the most colorful rookie to post a no-hitter was Los Angeles Angels left-hander Bo Belinsky, a former Orioles farmhand who no-hit the Orioles and his ex-roommate, Steve Barber, on May 5, 1962.

Belinsky, who had a career record of 28-51, was known more for his quick wit, wild lifestyle and romance with Hollywood starlet Mamie Van Doren. After securing the first no-hitter in Angels and Dodger Stadium history, Belinsky told reporters, "If I'd known I was going to pitch a no-hitter today, I would have gotten a haircut."

It was the first of five no-hitters thrown against the Orioles - two of them by rookies: Belinsky and Alvarez. The Orioles have pitched five no-hitters in their history, none by rookies. The most recent came in 1991 - nearly a month before Alvarez's - when four Orioles combined to no-hit the Athletics in Oakland.

Bob Milacki pitched six innings and then left with a groin strain. Flanagan, Mark Williamson and Gregg Olson each pitched a hitless inning for history.

"It was exciting to be a part of it. ... " Flanagan said. "I had one-ninth a part of it, but it was one of those good things you remember."

Flanagan almost had his own on Sept. 26, 1978, against the Cleveland Indians at Memorial Stadium. He needed one more out in the ninth inning and had a 2-2 count on Indians designated hitter Gary Alexander. But Alexander, a career .230 hitter, hit the next pitch off the right-field foul pole to ruin the no-hit and shutout bids.

"You got to the sixth and seventh and you feel it building into the ninth," Flanagan said. "You get a sense of history, and you know you may not get that many chances to do this again. But so many things have to go right, and there is a great deal of luck involved."

Flanagan, then 26 and in just his second full season with the Orioles, never came that close again. He can only imagine what Sanchez was thinking Wednesday, when in his 13th career start he threw baseball's first no-hitter since the New York Yankees' Randy Johnson's perfect game on May 18, 2004 - breaking the longest gap in between the accomplishments in modern baseball history.

"I think there is probably a lot more pressure on a rookie because he has not been there before," Flanagan said. "With Sanchez, [Wednesday] was the first time he had ever gone more than seven innings. To get your first complete game and no-hitter in the same game, that's pretty good."

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