I wonder what it is about no-hit bids that attracts such fervor and enthusiasm. Whenever there's even the slightest hint that a pitcher has something special going on, fans turn all superstitious and start pulling for the pitcher like he was their pilot on a jet with busted engines. It's always "come on, just a little bit more, just a little bit more" until either a roar of approval or a sigh of resignation. Few things bring out classic fan emotion quite like a pitcher who hasn't allowed a hit.
Is it because no-hitters end with a win? No, of course not. Even the worst teams win 60 games a year, and the fan response to a no-hitter isn't in line with the significance of a single game.
Is it because a no-hitter improves one's perception of a starting pitcher? No. No-hitters are pulled for to equal extents by all sorts of fans, even the ones who understand that one start doesn't change very much and that a no-hitter is as much about luck as it is about skill.
Is it because a no-hitter establishes one team's dominance over another? No. For one thing, fans everywhere tend to cheer for them - not just fans of the team with the pitcher (this applies to the previous points as well) - and for another, no-hitters draw far greater reactions than your standard run-of-the-mill blowout. It isn't about making the other team look pathetic.
Is it about seeing history? This one's more likely, but I still don't think it gets to the heart of the matter. Seeing history is great, but history happens all the time. Mark Buehrle just threw a perfect game. Bobby Cox extended his all-time lead in ejections. Todd Helton hit his 500th career double. Joel Pineiro struck a guy out. It's cool when you get to witness something rare, but I still don't think that that alone is a good enough reason for people to get so invested in no-hitters.
No - if I were a betting man (and I am, quite often in fact), I'd wager that the reason people get so into a no-hit bid is that fans love it when players celebrate. It's part of why walk-off wins are so exhilarating, and it's why we'll still watch a World Series without any teams we care about. Fans take special pleasure in watching professional athletes laugh and jump around and hug each other and just act like normal people. I'm not sure why that is, exactly. I'm not sure what it is about Jonathan Sanchez that made me so happy to see him overcome with emotion. Maybe seeing professional athletes act like people helps fans feel a stronger connection to the players they watch on TV every day. But whatever it is, I think anyone will tell you that the best part of a no-hitter is watching the pitcher two seconds after the final pitch.
When you start to get close to a no-hitter, then, the pressure begins to mount, and while it's the players who have to go out there and try to seal the deal, the fans are no less aware of the gravity of the situation. Everyone becomes tense, and if a player gets a hit, it just feels like someone took a pipe to your stomach. You're disappointed that the players don't get to celebrate, you're disappointed that you don't get to watch the players celebrate - when you have someone who looks unhittable on the mound, like Felix did against Boston or Morrow did against the Yankees, and he gives up a hit, all the wind is taken out of your sails. All of a sudden "something special" begins to resemble just a really good start, and in that sort of circumstance a really good start becomes a letdown.
There are certain occasions, however, where a spoiled no-hitter doesn't necessarily spoil the game. With some pitchers, you know they're capable of pulling one off. Felix, Sanchez, Morrow, Buehrle - when these kinds of guys are at the tops of their games, the sky's the limit, and their no-hit bids carry not only promise but a certain sort of expectation. They should record a no-hitter. They have the talent. And it's only by seeing them complete the effort that you'll get to watch them horse around like little kids.
With other guys, though, the notion of a complete game no-hitter seems so improbable that each subsequent out is met with laughter and disbelief. RRS is one of those guys. I imagine he'd be the first to tell you that he'll never no-hit a Major League lineup. With these guys, no-hit bids carry a little more levity and a little less weight, and while you're still pulling for them to accomplish the feat, seeing them lose it isn't quite so agonizing. When a guy like Ryan Rowland-Smith has worked six no-hit innings, you don't get ahead of yourself as a fan; you just go along with the ride without building up your expectations, and by not building yourself up too high, a hit doesn't break you back down.
RRS got two-thirds of the way to a Major League no-hitter this afternoon. It's too bad that we didn't get to see him pull it off. But while I would've loved to see him celebrate with Kenji Johjima in the middle of the infield, I can't bring myself to be disappointed with the way things turned out, because RRS out-dueled Roy Halladay and came away with a win, and the truth of the matter is that that probably makes him every bit as ecstatic as he would've been had he held the Jays hitless. At the end of the day, I just want my Mariner players to be happy. And RRS is going to bed maybe the happiest he's ever felt.
It was a good game.
The Blue Jays rolled out an eight-righty lineup today, with an average ZiPS projection of a .332 wOBA overall and an average OPS against lefties of .829. RRS responded by throwing a ton of strikes, not walking a single batter while striking out four. This was as impressive a start as any he's ever thrown, and with an 89.5mph average fastball that topped out at 92, he was working at full strength. May all the speed bumps be behind him.