Henderson Alvarez with the unlikeliest of no-hitters

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Actually, it was prime no-hitter time: a meaningless game on the final day of the season. The opposing team had nothing to play for and thus started several backups. The umps were also looking to get things over with in a hurry. If there was ever a day for Henderson Alvarez to throw a no-no, this was it.

It was the ending that made this one unique. The Marlins, like the Tigers, couldn’t put a run on the board. At the end of 8 1/2 innings, Alvarez had his no-hitter ready to go, he just needed some help.

And if he didn’t get it, he was going back out for the 10th.

For Alvarez, it was his first start against an American League team since the Blue Jays traded him to Miami in the big Jose Reyes-Josh Johnson deal last winter. In 2012, he went 9-14 with a 4.85 ERA for the Blue Jays, allowing 216 hits in 187 1/3 innings. Rick Porcello was the only pitcher in the AL to give up more hits last year.

Alvarez, though, has found things quite a bit easier in the NL; he entered the day with a 3.94 ERA in 16 starts. His batting average against was down from .290 to .256. And today he was essentially facing an NL lineup. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson were all on the bench. Opposing starter Justin Verlander actually came the closest of anyone to picking up a hit for the Tigers. Prince Fielder left after one at-bat.

Alvarez ended up getting 13 groundouts, four of them taken care of himself. The last of those, off the bat of Don Kelly in the ninth, may well have gotten into center field if not for an athletic play from Alvarez. It definitely helps having that fifth infielder out there.

After that, the Marlins finally did their part in the ninth. Giancarlo Stanton came out of his spikes in his first two swings against Luke Putkonen, then lined a single to center on his third try. Logan Morrison followed with a single back up the box, and both runners advanced on a wild pitch.

It looked like things might go wrong when Stanton froze on Adeiny Hechavarria’s one hopper that went past the pitcher to be handled by shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Stanton, perhaps thinking the pitcher would field it, froze at third. He should have gone regardless, given that there wasn’t going to be a double play either way. If Stanton had bee thrown out, it still would have left the winning run on third in the form of Morrison. And there’s a good chance that Stanton would have made it. As it was, the out was made at first.

The mistake wasn’t fatal. Chris Coghlan walked. Putkonen uncorked a wild pitch on his first offering to Greg Dobbs, allowing Stanton to score without a play. Alvarez was on deck at the time, even though with two outs and the bases loaded, there’s no way he could have hit in the inning. The wild pitch meant the Marlins didn’t face the awkward situation of mobbing the pitcher instead of the guy who delivered the game-winner.

Alvarez’s no-hitter was the fifth in Marlins history. He threw just 99 pitches, and it was clear that he would have come back out for the 10th. Conceivably, he could have turned in just the third no-hitter of 10 innings or more since 1916. The two previous were both thrown by Reds: Fred Toney in 1917 and Jim Maloney in 1965. That would have been pretty awesome, too, but the wild-pitch, walkoff no-no was memorable enough on its own.

Athletics and Mariners to begin the 2019 regular season in Tokyo

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Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Oakland A’s and the Seattle Mariners will begin the 2019 regular season in Japan, in the Tokyo Dome.

The series will mark the third time that the A’s will begin their season in Japan, first doing it in 2008 against the Red Sox and then again in 2012 against the Mariners.

This is just the latest of Major League Baseball’s moves to expand the the game internationally. In addition to those previous series in Japan, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks opened their season in Australia in 2014 and the Dodgers and Padres will play a series in Mexico City this May. There has likewise been talk of the Mets playing a series in London, though those details have not yet been worked out. Obviously the World Baseball Classic represents the league’s effort to broaden the global scope of the once national pastime.

Get ready for early morning baseball, folks.