Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano threw a no hitter last night, and many on Twitter were quick to jump on the “dear Lord, that was a horribly pitched game” bandwagon. I was thinking about it, and wondered just how bad it really was. I present to you a list of the five worst no hitters ever.
5. Dock Ellis vs Padres. June 12, 1970
This was the infamous game where Ellis claimed he was high on acid. He walked eight and hit a batter while striking out six and miraculously not allowing one hit. San Diego also stole three bases off of Ellis and catcher Jerry May. This Padres lineup was actually pretty solid, featuring four hitters who’d finish the season with OPSes above .800. Four of Ellis’ walks went to those four hitters. To be a fly on the wall of the Pirates clubhouse in this game….they started Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Matty Alou, and Bill Mazeroski among others. Out of all of those guys, it was Dock Ellis who was the biggest star of the afternoon. Baseball is a funny game.
4. AJ Burnett vs Padres. May 12, 2001
The tenth anniversary of this game is next Thursday. That’s pretty crazy, I remember it like it was yesterday. Burnett would walk nine in this one, a record for a no hitter. He evened it out by striking out seven. He also threw 129 pitches in the game, one of the highest recorded totals in a no-no. Keep in mind, there aren’t records for many games pre-1990s, but we’ll take it for now. This was a pretty ugly Padres team, with the team’s best hitters being Ryan Klesko and Phil Nevin, both of whom are fine players but really not All-Star caliber. I should probably mention that of all the hitters on San Diego in this game, Rickey Henderson had the third highest OPS coming in, after Nevin and former prospect du jour catcher Ben Davis. Rickey was only 42 at the time.
3. Edwin Jackson vs Rays. June 25, 2010
I’m sure we all remember this mess. Jackson threw 149 pitches, which is the most ever recorded in a no hitter. I was a little hesitant to put this game on the list, since the Rays ended up winning the AL East and all, but he still walked eight hitters while only striking out six. This also may have been the longest 1-0, nine inning game ever, running 2:46. Much was made about Jackson, who for years, has been talked about for having GREAT STUFF with horrible results, getting some revenge on his former team. It’s worth noting that since the Rays traded Jackson following the 2008 season, he’s been traded twice more. So, I guess it’s just not Tampa that was fed up with him.
2. Joe Cowley vs Angels. September 19, 1986
Another one I was hesitant to put on here, since the Angels would go on to win the AL West and come within a Dave Henderson homer of heading to the World Series. But Cowley wasn’t too sharp in this one. He walked seven, struck out eight, and even allowed an earned run. His WPA (win probability added, which takes into account how much each play of the game increased or decreased a team’s chance of winning a game) was only 0.350, which is a horrendously low number for a pitcher who throws a complete game shutout, let alone a no hitter. Cowley would only pitch eight more games in the majors.
1. Francisco Liriano vs White Sox. May 3, 2011
Shocked that I’m going with the game that just happened? Look at it this way. He only struck out two hitters, which is the lowest total for a no hitter in the last 30 years. He only threw 66 strikes, the second lowest total among all no hitters with at least 100 pitches thrown over the last 20 years. He also beat a team that coming in, was only 11-19 and had a whopping two hitters with an OPS above .700. It was a perfect storm: a middling, inefficient performance against a bad team. Congrats Francisco, for being the worst you can be while being good.