Kruk & Kuip on Bailey: It was a 'macho' no-hitter
CINCINNATI – Homer Bailey conducted the postgame news conference with the collected ease of a guy who’d thrown a no-hitter before. He even came to the podium with a ready-made anecdote.
It happened back in spring training, in the setting for all great anecdotes, of course – the clubhouse bathroom. Reds first baseman Joey Votto asked Bailey if he ever thought about throwing another no-hitter to match the one he achieved in his last regular-season start of 2012.
“I said, `Well, do you want another MVP?’” Bailey said.
Bailey laughed. He was joking when he responded to Votto’s question with a question, and it was taken as such.
But on some summer nights, when you throw 93 mph, then 95, then 97, and continue to sear pitches like a cattle iron into Ryan Hanigan’s catcher’s mitt, there are no answers to be had. Not for the hitters, anyway.
The reeling Giants found none Tuesday night in a 3-0 loss to the Reds and their gifted right-hander, who entered all kinds of echelons by throwing the first no-hitter in the major leagues this season.
Bailey struck out nine and came within one walk, on a 3-2 pitch to Gregor Blanco in the seventh inning, from throwing a perfect game.
It’s the first no-hitter since … ah yes, Bailey, when he dominated the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on Sept. 28 of last year. He’s the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1974-75 to own the last no-hitter in the majors, and then throw another.
Bailey, a self-effacing Texan, bubbled up one thought after another while sitting in front of reporters. But at the mention of Ryan, he fell silent for a moment. No matter how far removed baseball gets from those day-glo orange and yellow Astros uniforms, Ryan remains an icon to every young pitcher from the Lone Star State.
Bailey did his best Ryan Express. With the deed in sight, he was all steam, power and blunt edges.
“At the end, I just lifted the glove and threw as hard as I could, I guess,” said the 26-year-old from a place called La Grange.
Bailey authored the first no-hitter in Cincinnati since 1988, when Tom Browning threw a perfect game against the Dodgers at old Riverfront Stadium. He became the 24th pitcher in the modern era to own a second no-hit complete game, and just the third in Reds history to do so, joining Jim Maloney and the famed Johnny Vander Meer – whose no-hitters came in consecutive starts in 1938.
Bailey wasn’t quite so compact as Vander Meer. But the memories of his previous no-hitter were fresh enough for Hanigan, who received both of them.
“It was actually a very similarly pitched game,” Hanigan said. “Early on, get quality strike one and then expand with the slider and elevate. That was our plan, depending on who was hitting. And he just got stronger.”
The Giants had not hit one ball hard into the seventh inning, when Gregor Blanco showed bunt early in the count to draw boos from the crowd. Bailey, throwing all fastballs, fell behind 3-1 – the fourth three-ball count of the night. With the crowd standing, Blanco fouled one off. Then came 96 mph off the plate. So much for the perfect game.
Blanco said there was never a doubt in his mind the pitch was a ball. Bailey agreed, and credited plate umpire Adrian Johnson for his consistent zone.
“I never thought he expanded his zone to make it happen and I never thought he tightened up,” Bailey said.
It was still a relatively close game, and the no-hitter was nine outs away. Hanigan, for the only time all night, felt the need to visit the mound and refocus his pitcher. He noticed that Bailey wasn’t getting out in front on his pitches to Blanco.
“His ball tends to run when he doesn’t get that extension,” Hanigan said. “He said, `I’m all right.’ I said, `I know you are. But I just want you to keep getting that extension so it doesn’t run back to the middle.’”
In the interview room, a reporter asked Bailey if he was disappointed, even a bit, that he didn’t get the perfect game.
“I am,” Hanigan interrupted. “I thought he had the stuff to do it. That at-bat just got a little bit away from him. That one time.”
Bailey's focus might have wavered one more time, when Blanco stood on second base with one out and the pitcher broke late to first base on Buster Posey’s soft one-hopper to Votto. Bailey said he would’ve beaten Posey to the bag. But then he saw Votto look to the other side of the infield, where Blanco was halfway between second and third.
“I thought, `What the hell are you doing?’” Bailey said. “And he ended up getting the guy. It was a great play.”
(Note: Even if the Reds had failed to record an out on Blanco, the official scorer would have had the discretion to rule it a fielder’s choice – no hit on the play – if it was clear Bailey would have beaten Posey to the bag.)
Hanigan praised Bailey’s ability as a true four-pitch talent, but sometimes options are just options. He didn’t throw one curveball all game and maybe three splitters, the catcher recalled. It was all fastballs up, down, exploding on the hands one instant, out of reach the next, with enough sliders to plant a seed.
Then it was harvest time.
Bailey threw 19 of 20 pitches for fastballs in the seventh inning. He threw 12 of 13 in the ninth.
“Later on, I just wanted to see if they could stay on 95-plus, 97-plus,” Hanigan said. “The last two innings, we weren’t trying to fool anybody.”
Said Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, wistfully: “I wish I knew that going into the at-bat.”
In the end, the Giants ran out of at-bats.
Last October, that was the Reds’ fate. The Giants refused to be turned on their backs in three consecutive elimination games in this ballpark, including an NL Division Series Game 3 in which Bailey held them to one hit and struck out 10 in seven innings.
The math was easy enough for Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
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“We’ve got one hit off him in 16 innings,” Bochy said. “I’d say he’s got our number. “
Bailey answered one question after another asking him to compare this no-hitter to his last one. But what about Game 3? Does this night, this accomplishment, this soaked jersey sticking to his skin take any of the sting out of that series?
“No,” said Bailey, snapping off the answer as if he were still on the slab. “Not at all.”
“They’re a really good team,” he continued. “I know they’re not playing as well as they’d like to, but they’re a tough lineup to pitch to. Just fortunate, I guess.”