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Here's How One Weird Play Saved Homer Bailey's No-Hitter

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Homer Bailey tossed the second no-hitter of his major league career Tuesday night as his Reds beat the San Francisco Giants 3-0.

Much is being made this morning about how Bailey has now thrown Major League Baseball's last two no-hitters. (His other one came on Sept. 28, 2012, toward the end of last season.) He's the first pitcher since the legendary Nolan Ryan to record two no-nos without someone else having one in between. Ryan did that in 1974-75.

But what strikes us about Bailey's performance Tuesday night in Cincinnati is how he almost watched the no-hitter slip through his fingers because of a fluky play that he arguably mishandled — and how he was saved by a quick-thinking teammate.

Here's how the Reds' website explains what happened:

"It was the seventh inning, and Bailey had just surrendered a walk to end his run at a potential perfect game. Standing on the mound facing Buster Posey with a runner on second, he didn't want to see his chances at a second career no-hitter suffer a similar fate.

"Then Posey hit what should have been a routine ground ball to first base, but Bailey, who thought Joey Votto was possibly going to catch the ball on the fly, was late breaking to [first base]. So Votto made a quick decision, and instead of trying to make the play at first, he threw the ball to third to try to get Gregor Blanco, who had broken from second when the batted ball hit the dirt. ...

"For Bailey, the best part of the play is that [Posey's safe arrival at first base] was ruled a fielder's choice, which preserved his no-hitter. And two innings later, he closed the deal by retiring Blanco in the final at-bat."

"That would have been a sad way to lose a no-hitter," Reds manager Dusty Baker said after the game. "Joey had the presence of mind to get the lead runner and preserve the no-hitter via the force."

Often, no-hitters are saved by an outfielder's great catch or an infielder's diving stop of a hard-hit ball. In this case, a couple things happened to save Bailey's night:

-- Blanco tried to get to third. If he had just stayed where he was at second, Posey probably would have reached first thanks to a "hit."

-- Votto quickly realized he had no play to make at first, and threw in time to get Blanco out.

Just what is a fielder's choice? Here's what it says at MLB's "Official Rules: 2.00 Definiation of Terms":

"FIELDER'S CHOICE is the act of a fielder who handles a fair grounder and, instead of throwing to first base to put out the batter-runner, throws to another base in an attempt to put out a preceding runner. The term is also used by scorers (a) to account for the advance of the batter-runner who takes one or more extra bases when the fielder who handles his safe hit attempts to put out a preceding runner; (b) to account for the advance of a runner (other than by stolen base or error) while a fielder is attempting to put out another runner; and (c) to account for the advance of a runner made solely because of the defensive team’s indifference (undefended steal)."

And while a batter such as Posey might reach first base safely, he's only there because of the "fielder's choice," not because of what otherwise might have been scored as a hit.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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