Joe-No! Joe Musgrove's no-hitter for Padres had me thinking back to Kenta Maeda's brilliant 2020 outing with the Twins

That Padres no-no had me thinking back to Kenta Maeda's near no-hitter in 2020

Baseball is special sometimes. The latest example: on Friday night Joe Musgrove, who grew up in San Diego, completed the first no-hitter in Padres franchise history. It was his second start for the club.

With this ground ball to shortstop, Musgrove pulled off the improbable: 27 outs without allowing a hit. (And using 112 pitches in his second start of the year.) Here’s Dan Orsillo with the call.

Do you remember Kenta Maeda’s masterpiece from 2020? He had some good starts and none better than the outing against the Brewers in which he had not allowed a hit until the 9th inning. I wrote about it for subscribing members when it happened.

With apologies to Musgrove and the Padres for veering from their moment in the sun, there will be plenty of people writing on that today. I’m going to focus on Kenta Maeda.

Looking back on that August 18 outing, a few things jumped to mind.

  • The most recent no-hitter in Twins franchise history was Francisco Liriano’s 6-walk masterpiece* in a 1-0 win against the Chicago White Sox. (Starting opposite Edwin Jackson, who, incidentally, had thrown his own masterpiece* of a no-no the year before: 8 walks and 149 pitches of maneuvering mastery!)

  • Maeda at one point during his no-hit bid struck out 8 Brewers hitters in order - a Twins franchise record - and one of them was former NL MVP Christian Yelich. Changeup, fastball, slider, changeup, fastball-looking, fastball, changeup, fastball. Mastery.

  • That Eric Sogard single is the deepest into a game that Kenta Maeda has made it without surrendering a hit during his MLB career.

Source: 5 Thoughts Baseball newsletter

  • Maeda threw 115 pitches that day. (See? Rocco Baldelli isn’t anti-no-no after all; he’s just opposed to letting someone do significantly more work than their bodies have been adapted for, thereby substantially increasing the percentage chance of injury - or so the thinking goes.)

  • My friend Stew Thornley maintains a vitally important website: No-hitters completed by year, which also includes no-nos broken up in the 9th inning. Joe Mauer, you’ll recall, broke up a record 3 no-hitters or combined no-hitters in the 9th inning.

With apologies to Gavin Floyd, Anibal Sanchez, and Rich Harden/Matt Harrison/Darren O’Day/Neftali Feliz for bringing that up.

  • Maeda was a treat to watch that day. Fastball, slider, split-change. If he’s close to as excellent as he was last year and the Twins can get no-hit stuff out of José Berríos this year, look out, American League.

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Kenta Maeda's artistic expression

Twins ace Kenta Maeda took a no-hitter into the 9th inning, and it was a master class

By: Derek Wetmore, Aug. 19, 2020.

There is nothing, I’ll continue to contend, as fun to watch in baseball than when a great pitcher is locked in. Kenta Maeda had it going Tuesday night.

Maeda pitched into the 9th inning with a no-hitter intact, when Eric Sogard hit a soft line drive that floated just out of reach of the shifted shortstop Jorge Polanco and fell softly into the outfield grass. Maeda could only smile. The eyes of the baseball world turned to him – in roughly the 7th or 8th innings, and certainly by the 9th. I wasn’t at the yard although I couldn’t help but wonder how the electricity in the dugout felt, knowing that the electricity in the rest of the park was sadly muted.

His final line: 8 innings, 1 hit, 2 walks and 12 strikeouts. It wasn’t cruise control; it was another place beyond that. Changing gears with ease, perfectly in sync with his arsenal. Maeda sliced up Milwaukee batters with sliders and changeups, earning an incredible 20 swings and misses on the two ‘secondary’ pitches on the night. Maeda missed 26 swinging bats in total, and you start to really take notice of a starter who gathers 15 in an outing.

Source: 5 Thoughts baseball newsletter

I do remember last season, in José Berríos’ first outing, when he had the Indians eating from the palm of his hand. That guy was dominant that day. Or one year before that when he had the same thing going against Baltimore. Jake Odorizzi’s epic duel with Justin Verlander last season, a 1-0 Twins win against the champs we didn’t know had cheated.

None of those starts featured 12 strikeouts. None of them set a new Twins franchise record for eight punched tickets in a row. That distinction belongs to Kenta Maeda.

I don’t know that you can “compare” dominance, necessarily, in the same way that it’s difficult to compare two awe-inspiring paintings. Maeda, when he’s rolling, is a different kind of dominant.

But, boy, was he dominant against the Brewers.

The most impressive part of the outing is that I’ll bet you could have watched every Maeda start in his MLB career, and we still weren’t likely to guess what pitch was coming next with two strikes. The way the slider and changeup played off each other – one breaking down and in to lefties, the other fading away from lefties – was so incredibly impressive. And then, if you were waiting for that break, in either direction, somehow Maeda and catcher Alex Avila could sense that and hit you with a 92-93 mph fastball to shut things down. It was artistic expression.

I also found it to be great theater seeing Rocco Baldelli conferring with pitching coach Wes Johnson in the dugout as the game progressed to its later stages. Rocco had to be sweating a bit when Maeda finished 8 no-hit innings with 113 pitches. What’s the right decision here?

On one hand – I get it – you want to ensure the longevity of your precious starters, as they could be the difference between winning and losing in October, a practical certainty for the Twins. On the other, we watch sports in part to witness special and memorable moments as they unfold in real time. From a viewer’s perspective, I thought the decision to let him try in the 9th was plainly obvious. Give him six days off after that outing if he feels like he needs it, what do we care?!

An aside: You know a starter is going good when the other team is thrilled to knock his tired self out in the 9th inning to get a relatively rested Taylor Rogers. And after Maeda left, the game became flooded with yet more drama, uncertainty, and for a sports viewer with a rooting interest, I’m sure there were some emotions in play late into the night Tuesday. As I told my friends, “nice little ballgame.”