Baseball is a great game on so many levels. There’s no comparison to it, in any other organized sport. And last night’s game between the Cleveland Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays is but one more example of baseball’s supremacy.
Have you ever gone to a game and got excited at the prospect of seeing a no-hitter? It really doesn’t matter whether or not it’s your team on the receiving end of it, either. A no-hitter only happens a couple times during the season, and some seasons don’t have any no-hitters at all. I’ve been to hundreds of ballgames through the years, and I’ve never seen a no-hitter. My guess is that a large percentage of baseball fans can say the same thing.
So when the Indians’ Carlos Carrasco started getting close to a no-hitter on Wednesday night in Tampa, the 11,394 fans in attendance weren’t too concerned about it. At some point, the realization that the Rays were going to lose set in. And after seeing an Indians pitcher take not just a no-hitter but a perfect game into the sixth inning on the two previous nights, the Rays faithful had to be thinking that perhaps they were witnessing history in the making.
Carrasco issued a walk to the Rays’ Joey Butler with one out in the seventh inning. The no-hitter was still intact, though, and when Carrasco took the mound with an 8-0 lead in the ninth inning, history wasn’t too far away.
Carrasco issued another walk and hit a batter in the ninth inning, but he also retired two Rays batter before Butler came up again to bat. Even though Butler’s hitting above .300 on the season, he had 21 career plate appearances in the majors before 2015. He isn’t exactly a seasoned pro, at least not yet.
Carrasco proceeded to get two strikes on Butler, and now he needed just one more strike to make history. Whatever else may happen to Carrasco over the course of his career, another strike would have meant that his name would be recorded in the history books forever. Greg Maddux may have been the best pitcher of the past 20 years, but he never threw a no-hitter. And Carlos Carrasco was poised to do exactly that.
Butler got the bat on the ball for Carrasco’s two-strike offering, and it headed in the direction of Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis. Every defender on that field was well aware of what that last out meant, and welcomed the opportunity to be the one who preserved a no-hitter for their pitcher. Doing so could arguably make them even more heroic that the pitcher who records 27 out without allowing a hit. Everyone wanted to be the hero, and it seemed to be Kipnis’ night for it.
The adrenaline of the moment probably helped Kipnis get an extra few inches of vertical leap. And at 5 feet, 11 inches it’s not that Kipnis is a short player. But if he needed 20 inches to get the job done, he got 18 or perhaps even 19 inches. But he didn’t get the full 20.
Carrasco then exited the game to an appreciative response from Rays fans. He was all smiles and hugs both on the field and back in the dugout, happy to get as close to history as he did. But there’s always going to be that inch or two separating Carlos Carrasco from having a baseball on display at Cooperstown. May we never again doubt the aphorism that “baseball is a game of inches.” Carlos Carrasco realizes this today, better than most of us ever could.