By my watch it's been about 25 minutes since the last no-hitter. What's the matter, all the pitchers at the big Marlo's Fourth of July furniture sale?

The other night somebody offered me tickets to an Orioles' game. So I asked my 7-year-old, who's always after me to play catch, if she wanted to go.

"What," she said, "and see another no-hitter?"

Six no-hitters already.

On pace for 860.

No runs. No hits. New era.

Q. Does this mean the pitchers are ahead of the hitters?

A. What hitters?

I fear our pastoral game is in trouble. I see its elegiac symmetry drifting out of proportion. I feel its cerebral appeal slipping. I hear its timeless American rhythms becoming dissonant. I agonize for George F. Will.

Mark Langston/Mike Witt. A combined no-no. On opening day no less, a telltale sign of portending doom. Macbeth's witches couldn't have called it any clearer.

Randy Johnson. At 6-10, the tallest man ever to pitch a no-hitter. At 6-10, what's he doing in baseball anyway? Another one Bob Ferry let get away.

Nolan Ryan. Of course. He hadn't thrown one in the '90s, he was due. At 43, the oldest man to pitch a no-hitter. Luis Tiant heard and immediately asked his grandson to grab a catcher's mitt and help him warm up.

Dave Stewart. Fernando Valenzuela. On the same night! The first time that's ever happened. Stewart threw his in Toronto: First no-hitter in a half-indoor, half-outdoor stadium -- schizophrenics throughout baseball rejoiced. No surprise, Stewart's won 20 games three years in a row. But Fernando? He's overweight, can hardly see home plate, and his arm's been falling off for the last two seasons; the first no-hitter by an out-patient.

Andy Hawkins. Here's a guy who three weeks ago was told he could either report to Class AAA or be released from the Yankees, the worst team in baseball. It doesn't get any lower than that. . . . I'm sorry, yes it does. Hawkins pitches a no-hitter and loses. Not close either, 4-0. Another inning's worth of fly balls to his outfield, and they might have called the game on a 10-run rule. That's a Little League no-hitter, lose 4-0, walk 19. "When you pitch a no-hitter you expect jubilation. You expect to walk off the field shaking hands with everyone," said Hawkins. "I'm stunned." He's stunned? What about Yankees fans? They realize how badly Steinbrenner has messed up this team: Your pitcher throws a no-hitter, and you need a grand slam in the ninth to tie.

Hmm, five no-hitters in the AL.

Maybe they're using the designated no-hitter this year.

The explosion of no-hitters is so sudden. (Two short weeks ago baseball was buzzing about the gallons of home runs being hit. Cecil Fielder was the hottest Japanese import since the ginzu knife.) From 1985 through 1989 there were four no-hitters total. The last season there were six no-nos was 1969 -- the first time man walked on the moon, need I say more? But it was the same year the pitcher's mound was lowered 10 inches to de-claw pitchers after Denny McLain won 31 and Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA in 1968. So where do they go now? Do they make the pitchers pitch from below ground level? ("Tim, he really dug a hole for himself this time.") Do they make the ball bigger? ("Holy Cow, that huckleberry looks like Andy Varipapa out there.") All the Roto Guys are apoplectic, of course; Bill James is up to his eyeballs in decimal points as we speak.

Q. Have we returned to the dead ball era?

A. I don't want to be too hasty, but the last shipment of balls we got from Haiti -- instead of Fay Vincent's name, they were stamped "R.I.P."

Theories abound.

Some say it's Dilution Of Talent. This is an old, stupid theory advanced by people who've forgotten that the last expansion took place in 1977.

Some say it's Because Of The Lockout. This is a new, stupid theory advanced by the same people who two short weeks ago were insisting the gallons of homers were Because Of The Lockout. If this was Heidelberg, they'd say the Berlin Wall fell Because Of The Lockout. It's July. Give up The Lockout already.

Some say it's World Cup Envy. With worldwide fan interest high despite only occasional goals in soccer, no-hitters may be baseball's bid to attract foreign fans. The next double no-hitter, think Group F.

Some say it's because of Global Warming. I think this is the new wave Full Moon theory, which might make sense if any of these no-hitters were thrown in Phoenix. But Toronto, Oakland, Chicago, L.A. (twice) and Seattle (indoors) are not yet like pitching in Riyadh.

The lesson is that we've invested too much in the no-hitter. It's a routine deal now, another rest stop on the turnpike of life, unworthy of so much cerebral effort even in such a cerebral game. Why don't we shift our attention to the undervalued six-hitter? That's where real skill shows -- figuring out when and where to give up the six hits.

You can hear them in the booth, after a pitcher has given up five, saying, "Oh, the pressure's on now. We don't want to jinx him, but everyone in this ball park knows he has a six-hitter within his grasp!" (How many pitchers threw consecutive six-hitters? Who's the tallest man to do it, the oldest, the least articulate? Sports fan and talk show host extraordinaire Larry King suggests a great new stat for Elias to find: Which player broke up the most six-hitters?)

Say it's the ninth. You've got a one-run lead -- men on first and second, one out. A brutal decision for a manager. He has his closer warmed up, but the fans are pleading, "Leave him in, Skip, he's working on a six-hitter."

April 11: Mark Langston (7 innings) and Mike Witt (2), California vs. Seattle; Won, 1-0.

June 2: Randy Johnson, Seattle vs. Detroit; Won, 2-0.

June 11: Nolan Ryan, Texas at Oakland; Won, 5-0.

June 29: Dave Stewart, Oakland at Toronto; Won, 5-0.

June 29: Fernando Valenzuela, Los Angeles vs. St. Louis; Won, 6-0.

July 1: Andy Hawkins, N.Y. Yankees at Chicago White Sox; Lost, 4-0.