By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND–A whole lot transpired at the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday night, and Sean Manaea admittedly wasn’t tuned in to all of it. But he did have a handle on the important stuff.
Like? Like handling 27 Red Sox’ batters (excepting two walks) one at a time.
Manaea not only threw a no-hitter, he stopped baseball’s hottest team dead in its tracks. So call it the rarest of no-hitters.
How rare? Rare.
Only seven major league teams since 1900 have won 17 of 19 games to start a season. Before the Red Sox this season, the ’87 Brewers were the last to do it. The Red Sox hadn’t been no-hit since 1993–25 seasons ago–the second longest streak ever for one franchise avoiding being no-hit. And the A’s hadn’t produced a no-no since Dallas Braden’s Mother’s Day masterpiece in 2010. That’s a total of just seven no-hitters in the 50-year history of the Oakland A’s.
“It still doesn’t feel real,” Manaea said. “I can’t imagine throwing a no-hitter in the big leagues, especially against a team like the Red Sox.”
Manaea’s battery mate, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, envisioned the no-hitter as it was happening. Superstitious manager Bob Melvin started doing weird baseball stuff in the sixth inning. Didn’t make eye contact with Manaea in the dugout between innings, made sure his conversations with pitching coach Scott Emerson regarding Manaea’s pitch count were done privately. And in the ninth inning, Melvin hoped that he wouldn’t distract his pitcher by being forced to get a reliever up in the bullpen.
Meanwhile, Manaea didn’t have any extraneous thoughts going on. When Boston’s Sandy Leon lazy, but well-placed pop up in the fifth glanced off Marcus Semien’s glove for an error, Manaea assumed it was ruled a base hit. It wasn’t until he retired six more batters, before the start of the eighth inning, that he realized otherwise.
“I just thought it was a hit,” he said. “So from them until the eighth or ninth, I thought it was just a one-hitter. I didn’t think it was a no-hitter. And then I looked up in the eighth and ninth, and I saw that there were still zeros. I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s weird.’”
What wasn’t weird was Manaea’s methodical approach to mowing down Red Sox hitters. In Lucroy, the A’s have one of baseball’s most analytical catchers, addicted to watching opposing hitters on video, taking notes and developing game plans. Manaea, in his third year in Oakland, has admitted to coasting in regards to preparation in his first, two big league seasons. That’s no longer the case as the Midwesterner has developed a mental approach and philosophy to his pitching assignments that incorporates all of the resources available to him.
“Talking to people, talking to pitchers, talking to coaches, you have to put your foot on the gas pedal the whole time,” Manaea explained to the MLB Network on Friday afternoon, when interviewed on Ballpark Cam. “If you shy away from things or if you get scared, or if you’re not sure what’s going on on the mound, teams are going to exploit that.”
Throughout, whatever pitch Lucroy summoned, Manaea delivered. Mookie Betts, the hottest of hot Red Sox hitters, and the owner of two, laser shot home runs over the Green Monster against Manaea walked to start the game. But his remaining three at-bats were drama-less outs.
The Red Sox were without the injured Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts, their normal double play combination, and struggling catcher Christian Vazquez (hitting .208) got a day off, replaced by Leon. But the Red Sox were hardly destitute; they came in leading MLB in runs scored with 123 in 19 games.
But Manaea handled them, adroitly moving the ball around the strike zone, and deploying his vastly improved slider and changeup as out pitches. The Red Sox had struck out in just 16 percent of their official at-bats coming in. Against Manaea, they struck out 10 times–eight of those in the first five innings.
“I’ve caught a lot of great pitchers, but that was the best-pitched and most prepared-pitched game I’ve ever seen. We were giving them different looks,” Lucroy said. “That’s one of the best offenses in the league and Sean no-hit them. Watching their swings, they weren’t very comfortable.”