Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez single-handedly transformed Sunday’s formality against the Tigers into high drama as he mowed down Tigers hitter after Tigers hitter. Alvarez, as he revealed after the game, also thought his Marlins were winning 1-0 as he took the mound for the top of the ninth with a no-hitter intact.
So when Alvarez struck out Matt Tuiasosopo for the last out of the ninth, he pointed to the sky and celebrated. And then he saw the scoreboard. 0-0. He shouldn’t have been surprised — the Marlins were shut out 18 times in their other 161 games. Still, there was more than a hint of irritation on his face as he jogged to the dugout, hopefully for the last time.
Alvarez got his no-hitter — with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the frame, Giancarlo Stanton scampered to the plate on a Luke Putkonen wild pitch, a curveball that broke just beyond the sliding Brayan Pena behind the plate. It was a circuitous route to a no-hitter, to be sure, but it was a no-hitter nonetheless.
Alvarez spent the final at-bat in the on-deck circle. The Marlins didn’t have anybody warming up in the bullpen; with his pitch count at a healthy 99, the 10th inning belonged to Alvarez. But there was still this feeling that the Marlins had to score here. Anything more would be tempting fate too hard. And wouldn’t it be the most fittingly Marlins ending to the most fittingly Marlins season to lose a no-hitter for a youngster like Alvarez — a pitcher who may never have this opportunity again — to lose a no-hitter because they couldn’t score a run? The tension was high — walk-off or bust.
The walk-off no-hitter isn’t a new thing. Virgil “Fire” Trucks’ first no-hitter in 1952 ended thanks to a Vic Wertz walk-off home run, and in 1997 the Pirates finished a combined 10-inning no-hitter (nine innings from Francisco Cordova and one from Ricardo Rincon) with a Mark Smith pinch-hit walk-off home run.
But this was so unique. Consider the environment — a nearly empty (as usual) Marlins Park, in a game considered wholly meaningless at the 1:10 start time. Consider that this was the first time anything even remotely like this game had happened in the MLB.TV era — the only time fans from across the league were tuning away from games with real consequences, like Rays-Blue Jays or Rangers-Angels, to see if the Marlins could finish a no-hitter for Henderson Alvarez.
Sometimes, in moments of high drama, we like to describe the events as “something more than a baseball game.” What Henderson Alvarez did may have been more remarkable: he turned Sunday’s contest — one that was meaningless heading into the day and one that will become meaningless again once postseason play begins next week — into a baseball game. All of a sudden, something that wasn’t supposed to matter was deeply important to everyone involved.
It’s a reminder that even in September, as the dog days of summer turn into a veritable funeral procession and the games turn to chores, rote tasks for the sake of record keeping, the game still contains magic. And it shows, as long as real live people are out there on the field, playing the game with a purpose — no matter how small or how large — no game is truly meaningless.