We may only be about two weeks into the 2021 MLB season, but some pitchers are already in mid-season form. The first no-hitter in San Diego Padres history was thrown by Joe Musgrove and on April 14th, Chicago’s Carlos Rodon added to the season total of no-nos. Rodon’s was especially impressive. Drafted 3rd overall in 2014 by the White Sox, he was seen as the future of their pitching staff. Things have not worked out that way so far, mainly thanks to injuries. He missed almost all of 2019 and 2020 with Tommy John Surgery and was a free agent before returning to the White Sox this offseason. Healthy and a part of Chicago’s rotation again, Rodon was ready for business. And thus far, he has shown exactly that.
Rodon’s first start of 2021 came against the Seattle Mariners on April 5th, and it was a good one. He pitched five shutout innings while only allowing two hits, striking out nine, and walking three batters. If anyone was concerned over the walks, he definitely fixed them his second time out. His velocity was also better. In 2019 and 2020, Rodon had an average fastball velocity of 91.4 mph and 92.8 mph, respectively. Against Seattle, he was sitting mid-to-high 90s, and even reached 98.4 mph in the 3rd inning. His next start would be against the Cleveland Indians, and for a multitude of reasons, the stars were aligned for a special night.
Rodon was able to settle in pretty quickly. Cleveland starter Zach Plesac was already removed from the game before Rodon pitched his second inning. Plesac allowed six earned runs in two-thirds of an inning, topped off by a monstrous home run by a standout rookie named Yermin Mercedes.
Not to discredit Rodon, but the lineup trotted out by the Indians benefited Rodon. In terms of a no-hitter, batting average is more important than OPS, and Cleveland lacked high-average batters. The team leader was Franmil Reyes, a power-hitter hitting a measly .256 on the season. Also in the lineup was 2020 AL MVP runner-up Jose Ramirez, who is a dangerous hitter, but has had a rough start to 2021.
Relaxed with a big lead, Rodon got right to his business and started to mow down Cleveland’s lineup. Through six innings, all 18 batters faced were sent back to the dugout unhappy. There were only two concerning pieces of contact, both hit by catcher Roberto Perez. In the third inning, he lined out with an exit velocity of 104.9 mph, along with a .580 xBA. It got scarier in Perez’s next at-bat, as he grounded out with a 108.1 mph exit velocity, and a .690 xBA. Only two other batted balls by Cleveland hitters had an xBA over .400, and Perez had two. Remember that name, since it will be important later.
The next inning, the seventh, is where Cleveland had their best chance of the night to get a hit. On a 3-1 count with two outs, Ramirez smoked one to left field. Considering the ball was hit 315 feet with a 110.6 mph exit velocity to Andrew Vaughn, a rookie new to left field, the chances that this would end the perfect game were high. Luckily, Vaughn barely had to move to make the catch, and Ramirez’s .820 xBA piece of contact would go down as a lineout. The perfect game was still intact, just six outs away.
Throughout this game, Rodon was cruising with his velocity. While he did hit 97 miles per hour a few times, he mainly sat in the 94 to 95 area. Logic would make you guess that would decrease as his outing progressed. Somehow, his velocity got better. One of the three balls to Ramirez in that seventh inning at-bat was a 97.3 mph fastball, which at the time was his highest in the ninth. After a quick 1-2-3 inning in the 8th to get him three outs away from Major League Baseball’s first perfect game in nine years, Rodon threw his three hardest pitches in the ninth. Sitting at the top was a 98.8 mph ball, which was thrown to the last batter of the game.
Three Outs Away
The ninth itself started with all awake eyes (these events occurred well after 10:00 PM) watching Rodon take the mound. As all potential perfect games have, the first three batters of the ninth inning were the 7th, 8th and 9th hitters in the opposing lineup.
First up to bat was right fielder Josh Naylor. On the third pitch of the at-bat, he hit a slow roller to first base. Hustling down the line, Naylor saw an opportunity to beat first baseman Jose Abreu to the bag. Both men, combining to weigh nearly 500 pounds, slid into the base. Abreu feet first, Naylor head first. It was really close, but Abreu just beat him. The call was out. After video review, it was confirmed. Two outs away.
In stepped Perez. He had easily been the best batter in the Indians lineup all game. On an 0-2 count, Rodon had a chance to send him away. He threw a nasty slider cutting in on the right-handed batter. And it hit him. Right in the foot. As Perez took his base, morale was low. Rodon had blown it. But wait, the perfect game was over, but the no-hitter was not. You can hit a batter and still get a no-hitter; ask Musgrove, who did it less than a week before.
Now two-outs, or one groundball to an infielder away from a no-hitter, Yu Chang was up to hit. He struck out pretty quickly, for Rodon’s seventh and final K of the night. All that was left was leadoff hitter Jordan Luplow. It took eight pitches, but Rodon finally was able to get Luplow to ground one to third base. Seconds later, he had done it.
While completing the 4th perfect game in White Sox history did not happen, Rodon instead pitched the 20th no-hitter in the franchise’s history. It may not have been perfect, but the Miami native put himself into the history books, one way or another.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images