Nobody is perfect, as the old adage says. Except in baseball.
Every now and then a player brushes perfection, but it requires a degree of luck and some precise skills. That kind of precision is at the core of what it takes to perform as a pitcher. It is said that in baseball, any team can win on any given day; there are, however, days when a pitcher completely dominates the opposition.
“They say good pitching can beat good hitting on any given day,” said baseball pitching coach Jeremy Thomas. “I think more than any other player in any other sport, a pitcher in baseball has control over the outcome of the game.”
On March 6 Kolton Mahoney, BYU’s sophomore right-handed starting pitcher, threw the school’s seventh no-hitter of all time against Nicholls State and showed just how dominant a pitcher can be when focused and in the zone.
BYU’s first no-hitter in 25 years
Mahoney’s no-hitter was the first by a BYU pitcher since John DeSilva threw one in 1989 against Colorado State. Through nine innings and 102 pitches Mahoney, retired 29 batters including 11 strikeouts and only two walks.
“I didn’t expect to throw a no-hitter,” Mahoney said. “I don’t think anybody ever does.”
The recently returned missionary has made a significant impact since rejoining the team this season, with a fastball that tops out at around 93 mph. Before a rough outing against San Diego on March 15, Mahoney boasted a 2.69 ERA in four starts and has consistently pitched into the sixth inning or longer.
Though Mahoney was firing on all cylinders with all three of his pitches working for him, he couldn’t have accomplished the no-hit game without a stellar defense behind him.
Feats of pitching: A team affair
In the same week Mahoney pitched his no-hitter, there were two perfect games thrown elsewhere in the country. There is a common thread between all perfect games and no-hitters: a great surrounding defense that is imperative to success.
“I think everybody was really in sync and everything was aligned,” said BYU head baseball coach Mike Littlewood. “That’s what has to happen in a perfect game or no-hitter.”
The coordination alluded to by Littlewood is no easy task; Mahoney had to be on the same wavelength with the catcher, Jarrett Jarvis, who had to be in sync with the coach calling each pitch. Developing a perfect rhythm between each of these personnel without missing even one pitch is almost impossible, which is why perfect games and no-hitters are so rare.
“A few great plays for Kolton saved his no-hitter,” Thomas said. “But if our defense doesn’t make those plays behind him, he doesn’t have a no-hitter and it’s just a run-of-the-mill game.”
Bob Noel: The perfect game
The perfect game is a pitching feat that has only been achieved 23 times in Major League Baseball, and it has only happened once at BYU.
“It’s a lucky thing in a lot of ways,” said Bob Noel, the only BYU pitcher to ever throw a perfect game. “But it’s exciting for everyone — everybody is holding their breath.”
Luck may have something to do with it, but Noel’s consistency in 1961 says otherwise. Called “the bulldog” by his former coach and BYU athletic director Glen Tuckett for his competitive nature, he retired 21 batters in a row, including six strikeouts, in a 8-0 victory over Montana. But his performance against Montana wasn’t a one-and-done experience; he had an excellent year contributing to an excellent team.
In his senior year Noel went 7-1 in 1961 with a 1.48 ERA and seven complete games, in addition to his perfect game. The 1961 team not only had stellar pitching but also a dominant offensive force, and BYU qualified for the College World Series but did not go because of the school’s non-Sunday play policy. For Noel, the perfect game was just a cog in the wheel of a great team that year.
“It’s not about what you do; it’s about the team and what the team does,” Noel said. “And that was important to us because we were a pretty good ball club.”
Pitching feats like the no-hitter and perfect game are few and far between, but when they happen, it is one of the most treasured moments in baseball. The coordination of an entire team of nine guys on the field has to be perfectly in sync for these feats to occur, but it comes down to a pitcher doing his job.
“The difference is a lot of other sports are time-based and you can run out the clock,” Thomas said. “Baseball can’t go until the pitcher does something.”
These special moments in baseball are a reminder that no-hitters and perfect games are just parts of a perfect game.