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Benches clear after minor leaguer bunts to break up no-hit bid in ninth

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The Hartford Yard Goats, the Double-A affiliate of the Rockies, nearly tossed a combined no-hitter against the Trenton Thunder, the Double-A Affiliate of the Yankees. Rico Garcia got the start, tossing six terrific innings, yielding no hits and no walks with 11 strikeouts. The only two base runners he allowed reached via fielding error.

Jordan Foley took over in the seventh, striking out two in a perfect inning of work. Logan Cozart worked the eighth, keeping the no-hitter alive with one strike out in a perfect frame. Closer Ben Bowden took over in the ninth, trying to secure the 3-0 victory and the no-hitter. Bowden struck out Jorge Saez to open the frame, bringing up Matt Lipka, who decided to lay down a bunt. He was successful, reaching base just ahead of Bowden’s shovel pass to first baseman Tyler Nevin.

Bowden struck out Hoy Jun Park and got Rashad Crawford to ground out to end the game. The two sides exchanged words after the game, which caused both teams’ benches to empty.

After the game, Garcia said, via MiLB.com’s Chris Bumbaca, “It is what it is. [Lipka] was doing what he had to do. And we were really passionate about getting the no-hitter. It is what it is. I can’t really speak for what he was trying to do or what he was trying to accomplish. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get the no-hitter. Emotions were high after.”

It has long been one of baseball’s unwritten rules that a hitter should not bunt to break up a no-hit bid. Most hitters follow this unwritten rule, but it was famously broken on May 26, 2001 when Padres catcher Ben Davis bunted to break up Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling’s no-hit bid in the eighth inning.

It’s silly when you think about it. One side is imposing a limitation on the other team, which actually diminishes the achievement. A no-hitter is more special if the opposition had the full range of options to choose from and were shut down anyway. At any rate, changing rules mid-game for personal enrichment is something children do.

Furthermore, it was still a 3-0 game. The Thunder, still well within striking distance of a comeback, were concerned about winning the game. If reaching base via a bunt helps move the needle towards a comeback, then it’s perfectly cromulent strategy.

Further still, players on the Thunder are not just playing to win, they’re playing to impress. Catcher Crash Davis from the movie Bull Durham to explained, “You know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at-bats is 50 points, okay? There’s six months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week — just one — a gork, a ground ball — you get a ground ball with eyes — you get a dying quail. Just one more dying quail a week and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”

Lipka has been in the minor leagues for a decade. Making it to the major leagues, even for just a cup of coffee, would be huge for him. Beyond realizing a lifelong dream, Lipka would get better pay (prorated) and benefits, including health insurance. Will that bunt likely be the deciding factor for the Yankees? Probably not. But there’s a non-zero chance it could, which means Lipka takes that bunt hit every day of the week and twice on Sunday — no-hit bid be damned.

Like all of baseball’s other unwritten rules, this one disallowing bunts during a no-hit bid is a bad unwritten rule for a variety of reasons. If the Yard Goats didn’t want a bunt to break up their no-hit bid, they should have better defended against it.

Mike Leake loses perfect game bid on leadoff single in the ninth

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Just one week after Taylor Cole and Felix Peña tossed a combined no-hitter against Seattle, Mariners right-hander Mike Leake worked on his own perfect game through eight innings against the Angels.

It was an ambitious form of revenge, and one that Leake served up perfectly as he held the Angels scoreless in frame after frame. He sprinkled a handful of strikeouts throughout the first eight innings, catching Matt Thaiss on a called strike three in the third and getting two whiffs — called strikeouts against both Brian Goodwin and Shohei Ohtani — in the fourth.

The Mariners, meanwhile, put up a good fight against the Angels, backing Leake’s attempt with 10 runs — their first double-digit total since a 13-3 rout of the Orioles on June 23. Daniel Vogelbach led things off in the fourth with a three-run homer off of reliever Jaime Barria, then repeated the feat with another three-run shot off Barria in the fifth. Tom Murphy and J.P. Crawford helped pad the lead as well with a two-RBI single and two-RBI double, respectively.

In the ninth, with just three outs remaining, the Angels finally managed to break through. Luis Rengifo worked a 1-1 count against Leake, then returned an 85.3-m.p.h. changeup to right field for a base hit, dismantling the perfecto and the no-hitter in one fell swoop. Leake lost control of the ball following the hit, issuing four straight balls to Kevan Smith in the next at-bat and giving the Angels their first runner in scoring position. Still at a pitch count of just 90, however, he induced the next two outs in quick fashion and polished off the win with a triumphant eight-pitch strikeout against Mike Trout for the first one-hitter (and Maddux) of his career.

Had Leake successfully closed out the perfecto, it would’ve been the first of his decade-long career in the majors and the first the Mariners had seen since Félix Hernández’s perfect game against the Rays in August 2012. For their part, the Angels have yet to be on the losing end of a perfecto. The last time they were shut out in a no-hitter was 1999, at the hands of then-Twins pitcher Eric Milton.