Bert Blyleven vs. Jack Morris: The 1987 ALCS

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No, I’m not going to go over the entire candidacies of both. Suffice to say I support Blyleven for the Hall of Fame and not Morris. Those who have it the other way around say that Morris was better than his statistics and Blyleven worse. And, sure, there are cases in which statistics don’t tell the whole story. I don’t really believe this is one of them.

What most don’t remember is that Blyleven and Morris actually met in a big game. And the supposed big game pitcher didn’t fare so well.

In Game 1 of the 1987 ALCS, the Tigers started Doyle Alexander, who had performed so brilliantly down the stretch after being acquired from the Braves for John Smoltz. Alexander had a rough night, though, and Frank Viola pitched the Twins to an 8-5 victory in the Metrodome.

Morris and Blyleven got the call in Game 2. Morris, still in his prime at 32, had just finished one of his best regular seasons, going 18-11 with a 3.38 ERA in a year in which offense had increased dramatically.

Blyleven wasn’t quite as good in his age-36 campaign, finishing 15-12 with a 4.01 ERA. He led the majors in homers allowed for a second straight season, coming in at 46 in 267 innings. Still, his 115 ERA+ was perfectly solid, if slightly below his career mark. Morris had come in at 126.

Game 2 opened with a scoreless first inning. The second saw Morris handed a two-run lead thanks to a single from Matt Nokes and Chet Lemon’s two-run homer. However, it didn’t last. Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky and Tim Laudner all doubled in the bottom of the inning, and the Twins went up 3-2.

The Twins went on to add two runs in the fourth and one in the fifth. Blyleven shut the Tigers down until the eighth, when he was pulled after a Lou Whitaker homer and a Darrell Evans single with one out. Juan Berenguer came in and retired five straight to give the Twins a 6-3 win. Morris went the distance for Detroit in what was his first career postseason loss after three wins.

That was it for Morris in 1987. Blyleven came back on three days’ rest in Game 5 and outpitched Alexander as the Twins claimed the series 4-1. Morris was held back for a Game 6 that never came. The Twins went on to win the World Series, and Blyleven ended up 3-1 with a 3.42 ERA in his four postseason starts.

As much attention as Morris’ postseason record gets, Blyleven also deserves credit for going 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA when he got the opportunity. Yes, he made the postseason just three times and barely pitched in one (he made one relief appearance as a 19-year-old for the Twins in 1970 ALCS), but he does have two World Series rings to go along with his fine regular-season record. Morris, who has three rings, went 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in his 13 postseason starts.

Sean Manaea thought he was throwing a one hitter

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Tossing a no-hitter doesn’t just require physical excellence; it’s a mental feat, too. Which is why it may have helped that Athletics hurler Sean Manaea didn’t realize his no-hitter was intact until the eighth inning of Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Red Sox.

While the first few innings passed uneventfully, Sandy Leon managed to reach base in the fifth inning after skying a ball to shallow center field. It wasn’t a clean hit, of course — shortstop Marcus Semien dropped the ball on the catch and was promptly charged with an error to preserve Manaea’s no-hit bid.

That was news to Manaea, who told reporters that he didn’t realize he still had a no-hitter going until he saw the scoreboard in the eighth inning. “Until the eighth, I thought it just like was a one-hitter,” he said. “I looked up in the eighth and saw there were still zeros and was like, whoa, weird.” The delay of that realization may have calmed his nerves as he continued to blank the best team in baseball, eventually capping his 108-pitch, 10-strikeout effort in the ninth.

A few fun facts about the feat:

  • Manaea’s no-hitter was the 12th of its kind in franchise history, dating back to Weldon Henley’s no-no against the St. Louis Browns in 1905.
  • The most recent pitcher to do so for the A’s was fellow left-hander Dallas Braden, who completed the club’s second-ever perfect game against the Rays in 2010. Surprisingly, Manaea managed to make even more efficient use of his pitch count than Braden did during his perfecto; he fired just 108 pitches against the Red Sox, a hair under the 109 pitches used by Braden against the Rays.
  • Manaea himself, however, is just the seventh Athletics pitcher (and third lefty) to toss a no-hitter. Legendary southpaw Vida Blue pitched two no-nos for the team, including a combined no-hitter that also featured Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers against the 1975 California Angels.
  • Until Saturday, the Red Sox had the second-longest streak without being no-hit in the majors, at 3,987 games… a record that was only eclipsed by the A’s own streak.
  • With a 17-2 record and .895 winning percentage, the Red Sox were the most successful team to be no-hit in major-league history. Prior to Saturday’s loss, they averaged 6.4 runs per game and had yet to be shut out by any team in 2018.
  • Since 1908, 46 no-hitters have been pitched against AL East teams: four against the Blue Jays, five against the Rays, eight against the Yankees, 13 against the Red Sox and 16 against the Orioles. Mariners lefty Chris Bosio was the last pitcher to no-hit the Red Sox, a feat he accomplished almost exactly 25 years ago on April 22, 1993.