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Sunday, September 24, 2017

No love for the no-no

May 6, 2011

The no-no just isn’t what it once was.

On Tuesday, Twins starter Francisco Liriano tossed a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox, dispatching the cellar-dwelling South Siders in a career-high 123 pitches. He became the fifth Dominican pitcher ever to accomplish the feat, the seventh Minnesota Twin to do so and the first of the 2011 MLB season. And yet, for one reason or another, nobody seemed to care.

That night, just hours after Liriano walked out of U.S. Cellular Field in triumph, his no-hitter was not the featured story on ESPN.com. By noon the following day, there was no evidence of the no-no anywhere on its front page. The fact is, no-hitters are no longer seen as an extraordinary accomplishment. It still takes a herculean effort to get 27 outs without allowing a measly hit. The difference now is not the pitchers; it’s everything else about the game around them.

In the height of the steroid-injecting, record-smashing, bat-corking, head-expanding era in baseball (1998-2002), there were a total of eight no-hitters. Pitchers were facing a stacked deck as soon as they stepped onto the mound. Many clean-up hitters (Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti) resembled professional wrestlers, touting biceps and pectorals so massive they often frightened small children. Commercials declared, “Chicks dig the long ball,” and in that era there were plenty of bombs to go around. Runs and dingers were commonplace, and many major league pitchers were scared to leave bullpen after warmups.

So, when a pitcher actually did sling his rock at Goliath and achieve a rare no-no, it was big news. The media and baseball fans everywhere looked up and applauded. Because really, nearly every pitcher in the late ‘90s and early 2000s was an immediate underdog, and we’re all suckers for a good underdog story.

Now flash-forward to today. The steroid binges have subsided, leaving hitters swimming in their oversized jerseys once again. Home runs and runs scored are way down, and hurlers are finally basking in their moment in the sun. The year 2010 was dubbed “The Year of the Pitcher,” seeing a total of six no-hitters, two of which were perfect games. With the playing field essentially evened, the “underdog element” of the no-hitter is gone. It’s no longer baseball history. Now, it’s unremarkable. It’s almost just another win.

So, it should really be no surprise to see how little media attention Liriano’s gem has received. Coming off a season with six no-hitters, simply not allowing a hit is not going to create a media stir. With dominant pitching performances turning themselves in at a staggering rate, a six-walk, two-strikeout no-no is barely going to be a blip on many radars. As for fans, many would rather see Cincinnati Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman throw 106 mph with no control than witness a dominant finesse pitcher pepper the corners of the strike zone. Chicks still dig the long ball, but they have a hard time resisting a good fastball as well.

Although fans and journalists no longer treasure the occasional no-hitter, the game is better for it in the long run. Baseball has finally gone to rehab and cleaned up its act, and less offensive firepower is going to be an inevitable side affect. For Liriano, it means that his most memorable pitching performance might not be memorable to anybody else.

For the rest of us, it marks the start of a new era in baseball.

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