A year ago, right-hander Corey Kluber pitched one inning for the Texas Rangers, left after 18 pitches because of an injury, and didn’t pitch again in 2020 because of a tear in his shoulder muscle. Many weren’t sure how effective Kluber would be again at age 35.
On Wednesday night at Globe Life Field, Kluber pitched the sixth no-hitter of the 2021 Major League Baseball season in a 2-0 victory for the New York Yankees — against the Texas Rangers. It was the second consecutive day that someone in the league threw a no-hitter; Spencer Turnbull of the Tigers pitched a no-no against the Mariners on Tuesday. That hadn’t happened since 1968 — the “Year of the Pitcher” — when Gaylord Perry and Ray Washburn did it. For that reason and others, MLB lowered the mound a year later.
What might they do, if they want to do something, to lasso the no-no?
The modern record for no-hitters in a major league season is seven, which has been done three times — in 1990, 1991 and 2012. In 1884, when the game was played with different rules and ways, pitchers combined for eight no-hitters. No matter how you look at it, those marks are going to be left in the dust, and soon.
Of the six no-hitters this season — also by Joe Musgrove of the Padres, Carlos Rodón of the White Sox, John Means of the Orioles and Wade Miley of the Reds — three of them have been against the same team — Cleveland, Seattle and Texas. The glut of no-hitters makes sense, given how hard pitchers throw nowadays and how hitters approach them: Often swinging for the fences.
Kluber wasn’t overpowering in striking out nine, topping out at 92.5 mph and throwing plenty of pitches in the 80s. He also was a technician with a surgical slider; Yankees broadcaster Paul O’Neill said he counted only a couple of sliders that bisected the plate. Kluber, among the best pitchers of his era, worked the edges and corners to near perfection.
A two-time Cy Young winner with Cleveland in 2014 and 2017, he missed a perfect game by one walk to Charlie Culberson in the third inning. The Rangers hit some balls hard in the later innings, but New York’s defense seemed to be perfectly positioned each time.
Nicknamed “Klubot” because of his persistently stoic nature, Kluber raised his arms in triumph after Willie Calhoun grounded to second for the final out. Kluber’s teammates excitedly rushed him on the field, but the celebration was turned down a notch, possibly because that’s how the low-key Kluber likes it. Or how they think he does.
Kluber pitched the 12th no-hitter in Yankees history, including the perfect game by Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series. The most recent Yankees no-no came in 1999 when David Cone was perfect like David Wells was the season before. Allie Reynolds threw two no-hitters in 1951, something that’s on the table for a pitcher like Kluber in a season like this. In a postgame interview, Kluber expressed excitement and relief — or at least said that was how he felt — at joining Yankees and other MLB immortals with a no-hitter.
During the game, Kluber said he wanted to make it all “as normal as possible — even if it’s not” normal. If anyone seems perfect for that approach, it’s Kluber.
Kluber said his slider was effective because his other pitchers were too — and that’s usually how a good night of pitching works, he added. He also credited catcher Kyle Higashioka with keeping him on point, and the Yankees defense for making all the plays. He singled out Tyler Wade, an infielder playing right field out of necessity, who made solid plays that probably looked easier than they were for him.
After his disastrous season with the Rangers, Kluber signed a one-year deal with the Yankees for $11 million. After a shaky first couple of starts, he’s been building his effectiveness and lowering his ERA, which is down to 2.86 in nine starts.
He’ll be a free agent again in 2022, when he’s 36. He’s still got about three-quarters of a season left to throw another no-hitter before that happens.