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.

Max Scherzer will not be ready for Opening Day

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Ten days ago Nationals ace Max Scherzer said he’d be ready for the start of the regular season. “I’m gonna do it,” Scherzer said.

[Ron Howard from “Arrested Development” voice] — No, he’s not:

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said that Max Scherzer is not on track to be the team’s opening day starter, and will most likely open the season as the third pitcher in the rotation.

He’s still projected to make it to the opening rotation, taking the hill, most likely, on Thursday April 6 against the Marlins. At least if the schedule doesn’t slip any more.

Scherzer, as you probably know, has a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger, which has messed with his preparation and has caused him to alter his grip a bit. As of now Stephen Strasburg will get the Opening Day nod.

Theo Epstein named The World’s Greatest Leader

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Fortune Magazine has put out a list of The World’s Greatest Leaders. Not the greatest business leaders, not the greatest leaders in a given industry, but the Greatest Leaders, full stop. The greatest according to Fortune: The Cubs’ Theo Epstein.

For some context, Pope Francis was third. Angela Merkel was 10th. Lebron James was the next greatest sports leader, ranked 11th. Take Fortune’s methodology with a grain of salt, however, given that it has John McCain above Merkel — what, exactly, does he lead now? — and Samantha Bee in the top 20.

So what makes Theo the world’s best leader according to Fortune?

The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.

I don’t want to take anything away from what Theo has done — he’s a Hall of Fame executive already in my view — but I feel like maybe one needs to adjust for the fact that this is a baseball team we’re talking about. They’re the whole world to us and their brands are nationally and even world famous, but as an organization, sports teams are rather small. There are guys who run reasonably-sized HVAC companies with more employees than a baseball team and they don’t get the benefit of an antitrust exemption and a rule which allows them to get their pick of the best new employees if they had a bad year the year before.

Really, not trying to throw shade here, just thinking that being the spiritual father for 1.2 billion Catholics or running a foundation that serves 55 million needy children — like the woman who comes in at number 14 — is a bit of a tougher trick.

But this will make a great framed magazine article on Theo’s wall in Wrigley Field.