Sunday, June 24, 2007

My Near No-Hitter

Ok, well, not 'mine,' per se. More like Dustin McGowan's. Entirely Dustin McGowan's, some (most) might argue. But still, I've seen well over 100 live baseball games in my life and countless more on TV, and I've never seen a no-hitter from start-to-finish. My experience with no-hitters has either been watching the highlights the next day on Sportscentre, or watching the last couple of innings if I catch wind of one in progress. Even in the case of the only Blue Jays no-no in history (Dave Stieb in 1990), I only saw the last few innings. I was at the London Art Gallery with my mom and brother watching the Sunday afternoon movie, and upon turning the game on on the radio and hearing the news, we high-tailed it home. From watching Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (or Oliver & Company, or some generic kiddie flick) to a no-hitter -- not a bad afternoon for an eight-year-old.

Not nearly as exciting as almost seeing one in person, however. It was a perfect tableau for a ball game. Beautiful sunny day, the nonstop comedy that was Dog Day at the Rogers Centre, front-row seats in the second deck out in right field and suntan lotion lathered onto me like plaudits lathered upon Helen Mirren. I was there with my pal Kyle (imagine a taller, lankier, Plastic Man-lookalike, smarter version of me with possibly even more esoteric pop culture knowledge) and his fiancee Carrie, who was making her first visit to the Rogers Centre. I had forgotten what a jaw-dropping effect the ol' Dome can still have on people who have never seen it before. The roof opened up just before game-time, which allowed both Kyle and I to explain the roof's dynamics to a clearly impressed Carrie. Ok, she may have been impressed with the roof itself, not our recitations of our grade-school science fair projects. That's right -- Kyle and I both did grade school projects about the SkyDome/Rogers Centre. We truly were separated at birth.

Here's why I love baseball. Dustin McGowan's last start was horrible. He gave up six runs in 1 2/3 innings to Los Angeles. In the words of George Bluth, he was...he was just a turd out there, you know? There was no hint whatsoever that McGowan would turn around today and throw a gem against the Rockies, who are ahead of the Dodgers in virtually every major hitting category. But throw a gem he did. Now, when I attend a baseball game, I have a standing tradition where after, like, one batter is retired, I announce something like, "Ok, double perfect game today, here we go." The double perfecto was lost on the Colorado side when Gregg Zaun walked in the first, and then the Jays just started pounding out runs in the third. McGowan walked Kaz Matsui (yes! I get some fantasy points!) in the fourth, and that was the only blemish for a while. After the fifth, I said to Kyle, "Um, in all seriousness, he actually does have a no-no here." I repeated this every inning afterwards, for good luck.

In the sixth inning, though, I was stupid. I nearly angered the baseball fates. The shade had spread across our seats, so I momentarily removed my hat and give my chrome dome some air. Within five seconds, I had my hat back on and was feeling like an idiot. OF COURSE I had to keep my hat on. There was a frickin' no-hitter going! McGowan has given up exactly no hits with my hat on, so who was I to alter his course? I was terrified this would be the straw that broke the camel's back, but I breathed a sigh of relief when he got through the sixth unscathed.

The inning wasn't without its terrors, however. Howie Clark, the Toronto third baseman, made a hell of a play on a ground ball to steal a hit. Rockies hitter Willy Taveras threatened to bunt, which would've made me just about rush the field had he been successful. I'm usually of the mindset that a hitter should do what he has to do to get on base, and Taveras is a classic no-power speedy leadoff man who's probably had a hundred bunt singles in his career. But not during a damn no-hitter. I screamed 'BE A MAN, TAVERAS!' in response, which drew a few laughs from the fans in our section. Taveras responded by going into the Colorado clubhouse and re-attaching his testicles.

Going into the eighth, three things were still in line to happen. McGowan had his no-hitter, Frank Thomas had a shot at his 500th career homer (he hit #499 earlier in the game), and seven strikeouts by Jays' pitching, which would've gotten every fan in attendance a free slice of Pizza Pizza tomorrow with the presentation of a ticket stub from the game. Ok, two of these things are slightly more historically notable, but hey, I'm a starving journalist, I'll take all the free food I can get. McGowan did lock down the free pizza, so that was one down. Big Frank struck out in the eighth, so #500 will have to wait. This brought us to the top of the ninth....

...when leadoff man Jeff Baker took a strike, then lined a clean single into center field. Dammit. There are a few people responsible for this turn of events.

a) McGowan, for throwing the pitch.

b) Baker, for hitting it. What a douchebag. You're batting .240 this year Baker, why couldn't you have continued your mediocrity for one more at-bat?

c) Zaun, maybe, for calling the pitch.

d) Kyle. After Thomas struck out in the eighth, we were joking that Aaron Hill's next home run would also be a milestone -- namely, the 19th of his career. I said how that would've been a big milestone back in aught-eight, upon which Kyle remarked that Hill was a regular Home Run Baker. Now, one of the reasons Kyle and I are friends is that we're each one of the few people we know who would get and appreciate a Home Run Baker reference. Frank "Home Run" Baker was a Hall of Famer who played for the A's back in the era when hitting 10 jacks would make you an uber-slugger. So it was a fun little reference, except....the next Rockies batter up was Jeff Baker! What is the cosmic coincidence of that? Sure, (Jeff) Baker didn't homer, but even still. Why oh why couldn't Kyle have name-dropped Honus Wagner or Pie Traynor instead?

e) Carrie, for wanting to go to the bathroom during the ninth to beat the rush. God bless her, she's Irish -- she isn't big into baseball. For all she knew, a no-hitter happened every week. In fact, she heard Kyle celebrating Justin Verlander's recent no-no (he's a big Tigers fan), so for all Carrie knew, they did happen almost every week.

Whomever could've been at fault, it still brought a sad end to an overall exciting day. The odds of seeing a no-hitter live are astronomical. The Jays alone have only had one no-hitter in their 31 seasons, and even that came away from home. It would be like going to a Broadway show on the one night that one of the actors forgets his lines and just starts weeping on stage. If nothing else, it was a great confidence-building start for McGowan, a longtime prospect who was kind of on the verge of being a never-was before his solid job in the rotation this season. In fact, this start sort of reminded me of another Jays hurler who had a no-hitter lost in the ninth and a few rough years before blossoming into an ace -- Roy Halladay. All McGowan needs is an old-school nickname like 'Doc.' I propose Mutton Chop, in honor of his ridiculous-looking sideburns. Mutton Chop McGowan -- that's a great old-timey baseball nickname. Right up there with Home Run Baker....gah!!

So that ends the tale of probably the only no-hitter or near-no-no I'll ever see in person. It was perhaps for the best that history wasn't made on this day, however. It happened to be Dog Day, which meant that dog owners could bring their pooches to the game and sit with them in the right field bleachers. Had the no-hitter actually occurred, McGowan would've invited his hillbilly neighbours the Bumpuses and their 785 smelly hound dogs to every game. And with that many dogs around, Mike Vick wouldn't be far behind.

By the way, the Blue Jays' record over the last two years when I've been in attendance? 46-24. That's better than .600 baseball. J.P., hook me up with season tickets. Consider it an investment.


Chad Nevett said...

I got tagged and I'm tagging you, because, well, you'll write an interesting post. Details:

Kyle said...

How many times do I have apologize, Mark?