05/04/11 3:00 AM ET
Following 'Year of Pitcher,' 2011 has first gem
Liriano first to reach record books a year after flurry of no-hitters
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
Dominating mound performances already this season are making it look more like the Decade of the Pitcher. Still, before Tuesday, the 2011 season had issued a series of teases but nary a no-no.
Then came Francisco Liriano's relatively wild, on many levels surprising and in every sense thrilling gem for the Twins against the White Sox, a no-hitter like no other.
With the left-handed Liriano's gem, the no-no is officially back in the headlines, and it's hard to imagine in this day and age that his will be the last imprint the game's greatest pitching feat will make on the 2011 landscape.
Before Liriano's feat, seven pitchers had taken a no-hitter six innings or deeper, with Florida's Anibal Sanchez losing his bid in the ninth inning against the Rockies just 11 days earlier.
Josh Johnson has threatened twice, Tim Lincecum once -- and we're not even one-quarter of the way through the regular season.
Still, 2010 set a very high standard. There hadn't been six no-hitters in a season since 1991, when a record seven were thrown, matching the number thrown the season before. Before '10, six no-hitters had been thrown in a season just four times: 1908, '15, '17 and '69.
By this time a year ago, there was "only" one no-hitter -- the April 17 masterpiece by the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez, who was the fourth pitcher to take a no-hit bid beyond six innings in the first two weeks of the 2010 season.
Next came Dallas Braden's emotional Mother's Day perfecto for the A's, followed by Roy Halladay's own perfect game for the Phillies on May 29, Edwin Jackson's adventurous piece of history for the D-backs on June 25 and Matt Garza giving the Rays their first no-hitter on July 26. Then, of course, Halladay topped it all off with a no-no in the National League Division Series opener against the Reds, joining Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series as the only postseason no-hitters in history.
Now that Liriano has lifted the lid on historic gems for 2011, the reasonable question is: Who's next?
Well, not a lot of people would have predicted Braden or Jackson a year ago -- or Liriano this year, for that matter -- but a good place to start would be April's NL Pitcher of the Month, the Marlins' Johnson.
Already, Johnson went six no-hit innings on Opening Day and then allowed only a soft fly ball from Freddie Freeman in the eighth inning against the Braves on April 13. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last pitcher to take a no-hitter through six-plus innings twice in his first three starts was John Tudor for the Cardinals in 1988.
"He's amazing," Florida manager Edwin Rodriguez said of Johnson after the Atlanta game. "I think that he's still learning. He's going to get better and better. We haven't seen the best of J.J., that's my opinion."
Of course, the Angels' Jered Weaver has been throwing no-hit stuff as well, having started the season 6-0 with a 0.99 ERA and earned AL Pitcher of the Month honors. Although his two complete games thus far included six and seven hits, respectively, Weaver has brought his game to a level where he can go the distance and deal unhittable stuff on any given night.
"He's very pitch-efficient, plus he's been able to carry some deep pitch counts and maintain his stuff, so he can pitch deeper in games," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Weaver.
Certainly, finishing the job is the toughest part, which is another reason Liriano's effort was so spectacular -- and why it kind of opens up the box for almost any pitcher having a great night to have a chance at history. It was Liriano's first career complete game at any level, including his first 94 in the big leagues.
Indeed, Liriano's remarkable two-strikeout, six-walk performance is unique in its own right. That's the fewest strikeouts in a no-hitter since the Dodgers' Jerry Reuss had two in 1980, and only four others ever have had fewer. This was the fifth no-hitter to have more walks than strikeouts, the last one coming last year when Jackson -- the opposing pitcher on Tuesday night, by the way -- issued eight walks and struck out six.
And how about Liriano stepping on the no-hitter mound with a 9.13 ERA? That's the second-highest ERA through at least three starts since Bill Dietrich entered his June 1, 1937, no-no for the Cubs with a 10.13 ERA, according to Elias.
It was the seventh no-hitter in Twins franchise history, leaving us with one last no-hitter question for 2011: Will this finally be the year the Mets or the Padres break through with their first?
The way things seem to be trending the last couple of years, it'd be no-no surprise if one of them did.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.