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Game #21: No-hitter!

Sean Manaea no-hit the Red Sox, the best lineup in baseball.

Kiel Maddox-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Manaea threw a no-hitter against the best lineup in baseball Saturday night, and the Oakland A’s defeated the Red Sox 3-0. It’s the A’s first no-hitter since Dallas Braden’s perfect game in 2010 and the seventh in Oakland history, and the first time the Red Sox have been no-hit since 1993.

Boston entered the game with a 17-2 record and by far the hottest offense in baseball. Their 132 wRC+ was 11 points higher than the next-best team, their .293 average was 23 points higher than the runner-up A’s, and their 6.47 runs/game was a half-run higher than second place. On top of that, they’re one of only seven teams since 1900 to win 17-of-19 games to start a season.

On this night, however, they were silenced by Manaea. The lefty struck out 10 batters and allowed just two walks, with a third runner reaching on an error. Boston almost notched a hit in the 6th, when Andrew Benintendi was initially ruled safe on an infield single, but the call was overturned and the hit was taken off the board. Meanwhile, Oakland scored three runs of their own off daunting lefty Chris Sale, with Marcus Semien crossing the plate for each one (including a solo homer).

*** Click here to revisit tonight’s Game Thread! ***

The game actually got off to an inauspicious start, as Manaea walked leadoff hitter Mookie Betts to open the evening. At that point there was no hint of the greatness to come, especially with fresh memories of the efficient Red Sox attack the night before. However, Manaea followed that free pass by retiring the next 14 batters in a row, half of them via strikeout. The streak of perfection was broken when Semien muffed a popup in no-man’s land between shortstop and left-center field, but the official scorer ruled it an error.

Personally, I agree with the error call. It was definitely within reasonable range for Semien, he was there in plenty of time, and it clanked off the heel of his glove. Fielders often aren’t penalized for catchable balls that miss their gloves entirely, so if we also start making generous exceptions on balls that do hit the glove then we may as well just retire the error stat completely.

One way or other, though, Semien more than made up for that miscue with his performance at the plate. Amid Manaea’s historic outing, it’s almost an afterthought that he out-dueled Sale along the way. Boston’s even-taller lefty is on the short list of best pitchers in baseball, having finished top-6 in Cy Young voting each of the last six seasons and rising as high as runner-up last year.

Semien was unfazed, though. He drew a walk to lead off the game just as Betts had, but Semien followed it up by stealing second, getting sent back to first on batter’s interference, stealing second again, and then scoring on a Jed Lowrie double. Lowrie’s MLB-leading RBI total is up to 23.

Oakland’s shortstop struck again in the 3rd. Semien lined a single to left, and this time he scored on a double by Stephen Piscotty. His next time up, in the 5th, he sped things up by just driving his own self in with a solo dinger.

That all turned out to be more than enough run support for Manaea. He entered the 6th up 3-0, with a completely reasonable pitch count and more than halfway to glory.

That 6th inning brought the oddest play of the night, and certainly the biggest threat to the no-no. With two outs on the board, Andrew Benintendi tapped a ball to Matt Olson at first base. Olson fielded it, but with only enough time to lunge toward the runner speeding past him down the line. Benintendi avoided the tag and barely reached back far enough to touch the base as he tumbled past, but the umpires conferred and ruled that in doing so he’d gone too far out of his basepath. He was retroactively called out, and the hit was wiped off the board.

Our own Jeremy F. Koo has more on the rule at hand:

This is a tough one to judge when you’re firmly biased on one side. Runners leaving their path toward first base is a thing I think should get called more often anyway, particularly when they go inside the line to block a throw, so I’m glad the umps noticed it this time and I think they got it correct. On the other hand, I must admit this isn’t something I’m used to seeing called often if ever, so it’s a bit convenient that it happened right at this moment with a no-hitter on the line and wasn’t apparent enough to be called immediately by the 1B ump. All I can do is plead a serendipitous ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and point out that the call did indeed satisfy the letter of the law as per the rulebook. Benintendi disagrees.

The fact remains, though, that the Red Sox hit the ball hard off of Manaea approximately twice all night. After the Benintendi kerfuffle, the Throwin’ Samoan cruised through Boston’s lineup until Benintendi came up again. This time there were two outs in the 9th, and the young outfielder drew a walk to delay the inevitable for a few more moments. Three pitches later, on Manaea’s 108th offering of the game, Hanley Ramirez hit a routine grounder to Semien for the final out.

Boston was last no-hit in 1993, and Sunday would have marked the 25th anniversary of that game against Seattle’s Chris Bosio. That was the second-longest streak of no-hit-avoidance in the sport, coincidentally behind only Oakland. Now it’s reset back to zero.

This moment marks another step in Manaea’s march toward stardom. Oakland acquired him as a hot prospect in the middle of 2015, and he topped Athletics Nation’s Community Prospect List the next winter. He spent 2016-17 taking his lumps as a young starter, but he’s looked sharp out the gate this year. Now he’s on the national map after throwing MLB’s first no-hitter of 2018, lowering his ERA to 1.23 in the process (with 30 Ks, 6 BB). This is the top-of-the-rotation arm A’s fans hoped he could become, even with his velocity topping out at 92-93 mph these days.

As for his place in club history, this was the seventh time the Oakland A’s have completed a no-no. The full list:

  1. Catfish Hunter, 1968 vs. Twins (perfect game)
  2. Vida Blue, 1970 vs. Twins
  3. Combined (Vida Blue, Glenn Abbot, Paul Lindblad, Rollie Fingers), 1975 vs. Angels
  4. Mike Warren, 1983 vs. White Sox
  5. Dave Stewart, 1990 vs. Blue Jays
  6. Dallas Braden, 2010 vs. Rays (perfect game)
  7. Sean Manaea, 2018 vs. Red Sox

* Note: There were also five from the Philadelphia days, including one by Hall of Famer Chief Bender.

Coincidentally, the previous guy on the list was on hand after the game to interview the newest addition:

Finally, you can’t make it through a whole no-hitter recap without a tip of the mask to the catcher. Jonathan Lucroy was brought in late this spring to be a reliable veteran behind the plate, and so far so good. After the game he called it the “most well-pitched, well-executed game I’ve ever had.”

This Oakland A’s season is starting to heat up. The first week was sloppy and tough to watch, but the offense has found its stride, the defense tightened up, and now the pitching is making history in good ways. One great night doesn’t make them a contender, but this is now officially the most interesting A’s team since 2014 and they’re only getting better.

Congrats to Manaea on an amazing achievement! In the words of former A’s Vice President Stanley Burrell, “U Can’t Touch This.”

Box score via ESPN