Baseball almost experienced its first no-hitter early this year. Oakland Athletics pitcher Sean Manaea had everything working on Saturday against the Houston Astros, carrying a no-hitter through five innings.
Aside from some early issues with control, Manaea was dominant through his first five innings against Houston. He utilized all his pitches, whiffing six Astros as he cruised through their lineup. The A’s gave him some early run support, too, scoring five runs to give him a comfortable lead. All the makings were there for the first no-hitter of the season.
While Manaea was excellent early, he wasn’t perfect. Manaea did have trouble locating some pitches, giving up two walks and hitting a batter over his first five frames.
Those issues were his undoing in the sixth. Manaea, who still had yet to allow a hit, came out and walked the first three batters he faced in the inning. With the bases loaded and no one out, Carlos Correa hit a line shot to shortstop Adam Rosales. The ball glanced off Rosales’ mitt, allowing two runs to come home on the error.
Though Manaea’s no-hitter was still intact, his day was over. Manager Bob Melvin took Manaea out of the game after the play. He allowed two runs, one earned, on no hits over five innings. Manaea struck out six, but walked five during the contest. He left the game after throwing 98 pitches.
While that’s not excessive, it already put Manaea’s bid at a no-hitter in jeopardy going forward. Pitchers rarely get extended beyond 120 pitches, and Manaea was nearly at 100 with 12 outs remaining. On top of that, it was only his third start of the season, which is not exactly the ideal time to let your pitcher suddenly increase his pitch count.
With Manaea out of the game, Melvin called on reliever Ryan Dull to put out the flames. Dull would give up a walk of his own, but kept the Astros from picking up a hit. The A’s were now working on a combined no-hitter through six innings.
Liam Hendriks replaced Dull in the seventh looking to keep Houston off the bases. He would be tested immediately, as contact-hitter Norichika Aoki led off the inning. On the third pitch of the at-bat, Aoki singled to left, breaking up the combined no-hitter.
Hendriks and the A’s bullpen then combined to completely implode against Houston. After not getting a hit for the first six innings, Houston tagged four A’s relievers for 8 hits and 8 runs. In the process, the team actually ran out of position players and had to play without a DH. They came back to win the contest 10-6.
With the no-hitter busted, the focus will surely fall on Melvin’s decision to pull Manaea as he was in pursuit of history. While social media outbursts are not indicative of how most baseball fans feel, few seemed disappointed in Melvin’s decision to remove Manaea from the contest.
Fans seemed to understand everything that went into that choice. Manaea had already thrown a lot of pitches and was struggling with his control. At just 25, he’s one of the players the A’s are hoping to build around moving forward. A no-hitter is great, but Manaea’s health should be the team’s main concern. Allowing him to chase history at the risk of putting stressful innings on his arm would have been a huge risk.
It also helps that we’ve seen this happen before. Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled two pitchers in the middle of no-hitters last season. He removed 26-year-old rookie Ross Stripling during his major-league debut after the youngster tossed 7 1/3 no-hit innings. Stripling was coming off Tommy John surgery and the team didn’t want to push him any further.
In September, Roberts did it again. This time, he removed veteran Rich Hill after seven perfect innings as a precautionary measure. Hill had already missed time with blisters earlier in the year, and Roberts feared one was starting during the game. With the team so close to the postseason, they couldn’t risk losing Hill when it mattered. Roberts made the decision to pull him even though he had only thrown 89 pitches.
Manaea’s situation mirrors Stripling’s at the beginning of last season. But where Roberts and Stripling dominated the headlines in the following days, Melvin and Manaea may escape that judgement. The shock of removing a player during a no-hitter has worn off at this point. The fans have seen it before.
Some may still be miffed by the decision, and we can’t blame them. No-hitters are fun, and seeing players try to make history is exciting. But careers are on the line here. Like it or not, teams have prioritized pitcher health over the pursuit of history. That only becomes more important when the pitcher involved is considered young and promising, like Manaea.
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