Some pitchers have thrown no-hitters, and a lucky few have authored perfect games. But you have to go back 26 years to Mark Gardner to find an exquisitely agonizing performance to rival Rich Hill’s on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
Hill lost a perfect game on an error in the ninth inning of a scoreless game. He went back to the mound for the 10th, after the Dodgers again failed to score, and lost the no-hitter and the game, 1-0, on a leadoff home run by the Pirates’ Josh Harrison.
Hill became the first pitcher in major league history to lose a no-hitter on a game-ending homer in extra innings.
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The last pitcher before Hill to throw nine no-hit innings and lose was Gardner, the Clovis High and Fresno State product pitching for the Montreal Expos on July 26, 1991, at Dodger Stadium. With the score 0-0 in the 10th, Gardner allowed singles to Lenny Harris and Eddie Murray before Darryl Strawberry singled off reliever Jeff Fassero to win the game for Los Angeles.
“I had a great game, but I don’t feel good about it,” Gardner, now the San Francisco Giants bullpen coach, said then. “It’s still a loss. It was a great accomplishment, still a loss.”
Wednesday night, Hill said: “It falls on me, on this one. One bad pitch.”
No pitcher has thrown a perfect game since Seattle’s Felix Hernandez fired the 23rd in major league history in August 2012. Since then, Yu Darvish, Yusmeiro Petit and Max Scherzer have lost their attempts with two outs in the ninth. Hill lost his when second baseman Logan Forsythe let Jordy Mercer’s grounder bounce off his leg as he shifted to his right on the first pitch in the bottom of the ninth.
Then Hill lost the game in what has to be the cruelest game of an otherwise storybook Dodgers season.
Shortstop Corey Seager sounded disgusted as he considered the 11 runners left on base by his offense.
“I really don’t have the words for that,” Seager said. “It just sucks that we couldn’t do that for him.”
Across the room, wearing an ice pack on his left shoulder, Hill found a serene tone. He went through a similar situation last September, when manager Dave Roberts removed him after seven perfect innings in Miami to keep Hill from aggravating blisters on his pitching hand. Hill did not try to draw a connection between that night and Wednesday. Hill declined to wallow in self-pity.
“I don’t really think of luck,” Hill said. “Tomorrow, you put in the work, and it’s a new day. You just keep moving forward. That’s all there is. Sometimes, luck is disguised as that.”
His perspective is hard-earned at 37, and he considers it vital to his success. His career nearly ended after a decade lost to injuries and ineffectiveness. He mourned the passing of an infant son. He has emerged from those ravages as a man fixated on living within each moment, refusing to dwell on the past. He spent some of his postgame interview Wednesday expressing his excitement about working out on Thursday afternoon.
Hill credited those who kept his no-hit bid alive. He mentioned a sliding catch by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in the fourth and a Superman-esque dive from second baseman Chase Utley in the eighth. He praised catcher Austin Barnes for their rapport. He blamed himself for his 99th and final offering of the night, an 88 mph fastball that bisected the plate before Harrison made it disappear.
Informed that he seemed to be missing the point, Hill laughed.
“No,” he said. “It was a bad pitch. Late in a game like that, you have to make better pitches.”
Another no-hit bid, also involving the Pirates, ended when a ball cleared the outfield fence in the 13th inning, but the play was ultimately scored a double.
That was the famous game in 1959 when the Pirates’ Harvey Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings in a scoreless game against the Braves in Milwaukee. Haddix, like Hill, lost his perfect game on an error by the third baseman. In Haddix’s case, third baseman Don Hoak made a throwing error on Felix Mantilla’s leadoff grounder in the 13th.
Future Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews sacrificed Mantilla to second and Haddix intentionally walked another future Hall of Famer, Hank Aaron. Joe Adcock, another power hitter, drove a pitch over the wall in right-center to win the game for Lew Burdette.
Aaron did not realize Adcock’s drive had cleared the fence, so he cut back to the Braves’ dugout when Mantilla scored, thinking the game was over. Adcock then passed Aaron on the bases, and both were declared out, with Adcock ultimately credited with a double.
The New York Times and Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.