Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Madison Bumgarner smiled and laughed as his teammates mobbed him. It was a rare display of joy for a pitcher whose past year-plus largely has been defined by disappointment.
Bumgarner threw seven innings of no-hit ball in a seven-inning game against the Atlanta Braves, which the Diamondbacks won, 7-0, to complete a doubleheader sweep on Sunday afternoon. Per baseball’s official statistician, it does not count as a true no-hitter. Bumgarner did not seem to share that opinion.
“I mean, I don’t know, I didn’t give up any hits today,” Bumgarner said. “I’m not in control of how many innings we’re playing.”
Bumgarner appeared to be in control of everything else. Most no-hitters are adorned with great defensive plays and dramatic close calls. This one had no such accoutrements. Bumgarner pounded strikes, mixed his pitches and overwhelmed Braves hitters.
Since the start of last season, doubleheaders have featured two seven-inning games, a change made in hopes of keeping players healthy while playing through a pandemic.
Last year, Elias Sports Bureau, baseball’s official stat keepers, tried to ward off potential confusion by clarifying that a no-hitter thrown in a seven-inning game would not count. It cited a ruling made in 1991 by a special committee convened by MLB and chaired by then-commissioner Fay Vincent.
The committee determined that in order to be credited with a no-hitter “a pitcher or pitchers had to pitch a complete game of nine innings or more without allowing a hit.” A game with fewer than nine would be deemed a “notable achievement” in The Elias Book of Baseball Records. There were no indications on Sunday that either Elias or MLB intended to reconsider the ruling.
Bumgarner’s outing is the first time this interpretation has been tested since the doubleheader rules went into effect last season. But he is far from the first pitcher or team to be affected by the nine-inning requirement.
According to Elias, prior to Sunday there had been 41 instances of individual pitchers or pitching staffs tossing unofficial no-hitters: seven in eight-inning games, 10 in seven innings, nine in six innings and 15 in five innings.
Bumgarner’s performance marks the 42nd “notable achievement” — not that anyone with the Diamondbacks appeared to be viewing it that way.
Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner threw an unofficial, seven-inning no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves. (Photo: Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports)
“Still a no-hitter,” Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelly said. “Today, we came in knowing it was a seven-inning game. That’s what we were told, and we gave up no hits in seven innings. That’s how I’m going to look at it.”
Said manager Torey Lovullo: “It’s a no-hitter to me. And it will be forever. I don’t know what the rulebook is going to say and I don’t know if Major League Baseball is going to recognize it. But for what’s going on in that room right now, for the special feeling that Madison gave us today, it was a no-hitter.”
More: MLB had a hilarious tweet for MadBum’s unofficial no-hitter
A-Rod holds court: On the state of game, Dodgers-Padres rivalry and more
Since joining the Diamondbacks on a five-year, $85 million deal two years ago, Bumgarner has made 14 starts. Perhaps what stood out most about his performance Sunday was in how different it felt from most of the previous 13.
For parts of 11 seasons with the San Francisco Giants, Bumgarner was one of baseball’s better pitchers — and perhaps the best big-game pitcher of his generation. But nothing has come easy for him with his new team. Outings have looked laborious, outs hard-earned. He has seen the quality of his stuff fluctuate. He has appeared to be at times frustrated, angry and disappointed in how things have gone.
But he has finally begun to look like the pitcher the Diamondbacks thought they were getting. He took a step in the right direction last weekend in Washington, giving up one run in five innings in a win over the Nationals. He was far more effective on Sunday in Atlanta.
Bumgarner has traced his recent improvement to a change in mentality. He has declined to go into details, but his pitching coach, Matt Herges, said earlier this month he wanted Bumgarner to stop thinking about the more nuanced aspects of modern pitching and get back to basics. Rather than focusing on analytics and pitch-tracking data, he wanted Bumgarner to just worry about executing his pitches and attacking hitters.
“It feels good,” Bumgarner said. “But, I mean, that was obviously a rough — a very rough — stretch. I’ve been through a lot of rough stretches. You’re going to see some more. You guys are going to bash me like you did during the last one. That’s just part of it. I was waiting on it to turn around, I’ve been doing a lot of stuff. It’s only two games. I’m not getting caught up in saying this and that, but I definitely feel good about where I’m at right now.”
On Sunday, there were no close calls on possible hits. There were only two that would be categorized by batted-ball data as well-struck; neither was memorable. Bumgarner faced the minimum over his seven innings. The Braves’ only baserunner reached on a throwing error by shortstop Nick Ahmed in the second inning.
“He had pretty much everything,” Kelly said. “He had good command with his heater, good cutter, and the curveball, as well, he was locating. He was mixing as well, which was great. He threw everything with conviction.
“Oh, man, it was just really, really special. It was a pleasure to be out there and call a game with him.”
Bumgarner was asked if he thought he would have been able to finish off the performance over nine innings.
“If it worked for seven,” he said, “it’s hard to imagine it not working for two more.”
His performance capped what was a banner day for Diamondbacks pitching. Right-hander Zac Gallen took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in the first game and finished with a one-hit shutout. Together, he and Bumgarner combined to allow just one hit and two walks with 13 strikeouts in their 14 innings.
The win marked an emphatic rise to the .500 mark for the Diamondbacks at the end of a banner road trip. Through Washington, Cincinnati and Atlanta, they went 7-3. They are 11-11, and they suddenly look like an elated bunch.
Even Bumgarner. His postgame celebration started with a measured handshake with Kelly, who patted him on the back and on the chest. Kelly would have showed more emotion, he said, if he thought Bumgarner had wanted him to.
“I wanted to stay professional,” Kelly said when asked if he considered jumping into Bumgarner’s arms. “Because if I did that, he probably would have punched me right in the mouth.”
When the rest of Bumgarner’s teammates surrounded him near the mound, they began jumping and hollering — and Bumgarner allowed himself to smile and laugh.
“I like to keep it pretty low key,” Bumgarner said.
He apparently was roped into participating in what has become a postgame clubhouse dance routine with his teammates, though seemingly under the conditions that it not be posted online.
“It’s a pretty special moment for all of us,” he said.