Maybe the Astros knew in April that they were a team destined for the postseason for the first time since 2005. The Cleveland Indians did not treat them that way when the club went into Houston to open the 2015 season and nearly notched a no-hitter in the third game of the season.
On April 9th, the Indians sent Trevor Bauer to the mound for his first start of the season against Astros rookie Asher Wojciechowski, who was making his Major League debut. What might have been the least intriguing matchups of the series nearly turned out historic.
The series between the two clubs had already been both interesting and competitive. A matchup of eventual 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and reigning Cy guy Corey Kluber ended with two runs and a combined six hits between the two teams. Kluber did not allow a hit until the sixth, when Jose Altuve singled, stole second, and scored on a single by George Springer. Houston would get just one more hit the rest of the way and Kluber came two outs from a complete game loss, while Keuchel went seven scoreless for his first of many wins in his impressive campaign.
Cleveland returned the favor in game two, as Carlos Carrasco and four relievers combined on a four-hit shutout by the same 2-0 decision.
Hits would remain at both a minimum and premium for the ‘stros in the final game of the season opening series. The Indians struck for a first inning sacrifice fly and added solo runs in the second, fourth, fifth, and seventh innings. Bauer was effectively wild, as he can be at times, walking five but countering with eleven strikeouts on 111 pitches over six innings. The most notable piece of his stat sheet, however, was the zero hits allowed.
Kyle Crockett continued the walk train in the seventh, giving up one but striking out two in an inning of work. Scott Atchison followed suit, walking one and striking out one, but again left the Houston club hitless through eight innings.
The Indians have thrown their share of no-hitters during their long history, even with the current drought dating back to 1981 to Len Barker’s perfect game. While many teams in this new era of pitching, much more reliant on deep pitching staffs and reliable bullpens, have logged the “combined no-hitter”, the Indians remain a team without one to their credit.
The American League has had seven different teams throw eight total combined no-hitters, with the Baltimore Orioles the only team responsible for a pair. The National League has had three such games in its history, all since 1991.
Tribe manager Terry Francona called on Nick Hagadone to make his first appearance of the season in the ninth, when he was scheduled to face righties Chris Carter and Jed Lowrie and switch-hitter Jonathan Villar.
Hagadone pounded the strike zone, striking out Carter on six pitches, including three strikes looking. Lowrie stepped in and cut and missed at the first offering. The second, however, left the park, dashing the Indians’ hopes to end that unpleasant streak short of 34 years. Only the San Diego Padres have gone longer, as they have not thrown one in their franchise’s history, dating back in the National League to 1969 when they entered Major League Baseball as an expansion club.
“Lowrie swung and missed on a fastball and I tried to throw another and he didn’t miss,” said Hagadone after the game.
He retired the next two batters quickly, getting Villar to pop up to second on the third pitch of his at bat and throwing three straight strikes to erase Hank Conger on a swinging strikeout to end it.
“Anytime you have a no-hitter going, it’s fun and there’s a special air in the building,” said Bauer after the game. “Obviously it’s unfortunate to see a home run, but the team won and, at the end of the day, that’s what matters.”
The series was just a taste of what Indians pitchers could do to opposing offenses. They struck out the Astros 36 times in the three-game series.
In an interesting side note to the game, a bit of dugout etiquette was revealed by Tribe catcher Roberto Perez following the game.
The second-year backstop shared after the contest that he was so focused on getting the pitching staff through the Houston lineup that he did not realize the team had a no-hitter going until he looked to the scoreboard in the ninth and saw the noticeable digit in the hit column.
“I wasn’t thinking about [a no-hitter] until I looked at the scoreboard in the ninth inning and saw zero. I didn’t even realize it,” said Perez after the game. “It would have been awesome to get it, but I was focused on calling pitches. When you don’t play a lot, you have to be ready to help pitchers get through innings. [The Astros] are aggressive, they’re young. I knew they would be swinging early.”
For what it was worth, even with the home run and no-hitter lost, Perez called himself a good game behind the plate. The Indians staff struck out 16 in total while allowing just the one hit and one run, even after the seven walks allowed.
Francona had a different outlook, one that would appear as a theme in some other games later in the year when pitch count and chasing history met at an impasse.
“I asked Millsy (bench coach Brad Mills), ‘If we get through this with a no-hitter, are we supposed to be excited?’ I wasn’t sure,” said Francona. “That was the last of our thoughts. We were trying to set up our staff and win a game.”
It would not be the last time the Indians would chase history during the 2015 season, but despite the disappointment, the players and coaches said the right things afterwards.
“The team won,” Bauer said. “We took two of three in the series and are headed home on a good note.”
If only there were more good notes like this one, the Indians’ season would have been much more successful.
Photo: Gary Coronado/Houston Chronicle