As a member of this group, I can categorically confirm that Yankees fans born in the late-’80s/early-’90s have had a pretty good baseball-watching life. For me personally, the first memories I have of watching the Yankees are from 1996, which, as you may recall, was a pretty good year for the team.
However, the fun times went even beyond solely championship success. The past 25ish years have featured legendary careers, like those of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. It’s had those two and others reaching historic milestones and records. The era was also highlighted by memorable performances, such as the perfect games thrown by David Wells and David Cone.
While perfect games are pretty rare, no-hitters usually happen a handful of times every season. Yet after Cone’s perfect game in 1999, the Yankees went a pretty long time without adding a no-hitter to the memorable moments pile. Other than Mike Mussina in 2001 and Phil Hughes in 2007, there weren’t very many notable instances where a pitcher got agonizingly close either. Going in the 2021 season, the Yankees had one of the longest no-hit droughts of any MLB team.
That changed one May night in Texas.
Date of Game: May 19, 2021
Final Score: Yankees 2, Rangers 0
Game MVP: Corey Kluber
Ahead of the 2021 season, the Yankees took a bit of a risk by signing pitcher Corey Kluber. It was an understandable gamble given Kluber’s pedigree as a two-time Cy Young Award winner, though he had missed most of the previous two seasons with injuries. If he pitched well, there was potential for him to be a big boon for the rotation. However, it was also a pretty big risk for a guy who had missed that much time to be penciled in high in the rotation.
Kluber got off to a shaky start in his first couple outings. Through his fourth start, he was sporting a 5.40 ERA, while his longest two outings had lasted just four innings. However, he then showed exactly why the Yankees gambled on him in his next couple games. In his next four starts, he combined for 26.1 innings with a 2.39 ERA. That included a eight inning, two-hit, 10 strikeout game against the Tigers that was just a preview of what was coming 11 days later.
On May 19th, Kluber’s turn in the rotation came up with the Yankees in Arlington to take on the Rangers. A year before, he had been a member of the Rangers after a December 2019 trade had sent him to Texas. However, he lasted just one inning his debut, and would go down with a season-ending shoulder injury. That would be his lone inning as a Ranger, as he hit the free agent market after 2020.
The night of his start, the Rangers held a “Mystery Bobblehead Night.” As part of it, they gave away a bunch of bobbleheads that were supposed to be given away the previous year, but were unable to due to the pandemic and fans not attending games. One of the options that fans could get was a Kluber one, since the Rangers had to cancel the giveaway in honor of their pitching acquisition in 2020. There have been and will be plenty of no-hitters over the years. It’s highly unlikely that there will ever be another on a night when the home team gets no-hit by a pitcher on the opposing team, whose bobblehead they are giving away.
Kluber started out his day by rolling through the first two innings, striking out three. A grounder that required a solid play by Luke Voit at first was the only close call as the pitcher started out the game impressively. After getting the first out of the third, Kluber walked Charlie Culberson. However, he bounced back with a strikeout and pop up to end the third inning.
I can’t speak for everyone, but the point of the game in which I will even consider a potential no-hitter is through four innings. At that point, the pitcher will have cleared the top of the opposing lineup for a second time. While it’s still far too early to start counting outs, you at least have to have a raised eyebrow after four innings. Kluber got there, but not without some minor scares as two fly balls died just before the warning track for the second and third outs of the frame. He bounced back with a much easier fifth inning, including two strikeouts, one of soon-to-be teammate Joey Gallo.
While no-hitters are primarily remembered as a pitcher’s accomplishment, the hurlers do need help to get there. Besides needing your defense to make plays, you also need some offense to get you a lead. (Pour one out for Andy Hawkins.) Through five innings, the Yankees hadn’t held up the second part of the bargain. In the sixth inning, they finally did.
The bottom of the Yankees’ order may have been due up in they sixth, but they were the ones who got things started. After Kyle Higashioka drew a walk, Tyler Wade stepped to the plate and lined one into the gap in right-center field. It was to a deep enough part of that park that Higashioka was able to race all the way around from first, while Wade managed to dash into third for a triple. In the next at-bat, DJ LeMahieu flew out to left, but it was enough for the speedy Wade to tag up and score, making it 2-0.
Now with a lead, Kluber induced two fly balls and a grounder, all of which were cleanly fielded and recorded as outs. We were now firmly in the counting down outs territory.
After the Yankees missed out on a chance for some breathing room, stranding Gleyber Torres at second, Kluber seemed to continue to get even stronger. He cleared through the two, three, and four hitters in the Rangers’ order with a pair of strikeouts and an easy groundout.
Kluber’s eighth inning featured two groundouts and a flyout, with really only Khris Davis’ groundout providing any real worry. However, a well-positioned Gio Urshela cleanly fielded it and had no issues. Kluber was now through eight innings and just three outs away.
Seemingly just as anxious as everyone watching at home, the Yankees’ offense didn’t waste any time and didn’t allow Kluber to have to spend a lot of time waiting. They went down in order in the top of the ninth on just eight pitches.
Having only allowed one runner to reach all game, Kluber was set to face 8-9-1 in the Rangers’ order in the ninth. First up was Culberson, who was the aforementioned only runner to reach. This time, there would be no issues. Kluber quickly got ahead in the count and got him to hit a little liner that died right in front of LeMahieu. The second baseman didn’t have any issues with it, and easily recorded the groundout.
Next up was David Dahl, who was sent up as a pinch-hitter. This time, he fell behind in the count after his first pitch was outside. A swing and a miss and a foul ball then got Kluber ahead in the count. The fourth pitch then produced a fly out from the former Rockies All-Star. Wade in right field tracked it down for a tough but manageable running catch and out number two.
That meant everything came down to Rangers’ leadoff hitter Willie Calhoun. He took the first pitch for a borderline, but called strike. Kluber’s second pitch was right down the middle and Calhoun swung and made contact... but it went right to Torres. Shifted over past second base, Torres had no issues fielding or throwing the ball and got it over to Voit for the 27th and final out.
While they all go in the record book, not all no-hitters are made equal. Kluber’s was definitely closer to the top end of the list. The third-inning walk was the only runner of any sort who reached, as he needed to face only 28 batters to accomplish the feat. While we knew early in the game that he wouldn’t go that far, just one walk means that Kluber wasn’t terribly far from a perfect game.
Beyond that, he struck out nine, and while there were some good defensive plays, no batted ball came close to requiring a Dewayne Wise-level effort. Kluber’s 95 Game Score from the start is one of the best in Yankees’ history.
As fun as the no-hitter was, Kluber did end up getting hurt in his very next start and would have to miss the next couple months. He left in free agency after the season, and signed with the Rays. We never got to truly see how he would fit in as the Yankees’ No. 2 because he missed so much time and then the team was done after one playoff game. However, we at least one fine look at how good Corey Kluber could be at his absolute best.