Baseball press boxes know everything. At least about baseball. So, when a reporter has covered baseball for 40 years, including a decade on the 100-plus-games-a-year beat, plus close to 20 years of attending games as a fan from the age of eight on up, and he has never seen a no-hitter, he gets a nickname.
I’ve even gone to hundreds of big league games as a fan since I became a sportswriter. But I’d never seen a no-hitter until Sunday. Lemme tell you, it was worth the wait. Because it was no ordinary no-no.
Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann pitched one of the most memorable games in history on Sunday at Nationals Park — a no-hitter made special by an amazing game-ending, extra-base-hit-saving, full-speed, total-layout, reach-backwards and snag-it-as-you-crash catch by rookie left fielder Stephen Souza, Jr.
Probably the defensive play of the year in the last game of the season for the first no-hitter by a Washington pitcher since 1931.
That catch may have surprised me as much as any play I’ve ever seen, because as soon as Christian Yelich’s line drive up the gap left the bat, I just shrugged because I’d seen this movie so many times. Yawn. Of course, broken up with two outs in the ninth with 35,085 hearts broken. I watched, but I knew.
Even as Souza landed in a glorious heap, I half expected the ball to roll out of his glove. When it didn’t and Zimmermann celebrated, I suddenly had a nice, genuine little feeling which I didn’t expect. I don’t believe in superstitions and hexes and I certainly don’t think my presence at anything influences its outcome. But guilt being what it is, you somehow wonder if you’re a little to blame for the spoiled fun.
That Zimmermann and Souza could defeat my unintentional whammy only makes their feat … well, it doesn’t change it at all. But it certainly dials up the irony quotient for me. Several times in my career I have jumped in the car in the sixth inning with a no-hitter-in-progress in old Memorial Stadium or Camden Yards in Baltimore or at RFK Stadium in D.C. or at Nationals Park.
My wife says, “You know you’re wasting your time.” I say, “It’s my job.” But I think, “Maybe it’s just my job to jinx it.” Once, I got to Camden Yards as Mike Mussina took a no-hitter into the ninth inning. There was no place to park. So I just abandoned my car 50 yards from the home plate entrance and ignored the heavy-set police officer who was yelling and pursuing me. I never even got a glimpse of the field before the crowd groaned en masse and the no-hitter was gone.
The whole episode only took three minutes, and the cop believed my double talk (while I walked double-time) blathering my “thanks” to him for being nice enough to let me “drop off” something for somebody. Tires screech, clean getaway — and another innocent no-hitter killed in its crib.
So, the story gets around. When there’s a no-hitter in progress it’s normal to hear someone mutter, “Well, Boswell’s here, so we don’t have to worry about writing a no-hitter.” Of course, we like to write them. All baseball scribes are closet workaholics. But it’s part of the code to pretend that you’re lazy.
Still, it surprises people that someone with Baseball Writers’ Association of America card No. 23 (out of more than 1,000) has never seen a “no-no,” which is the most common of all of baseball’s uncommon events. It’s just unusual enough that everybody’s seen one. Or even a few of them.
A perfect game? Four home runs in a game? An unassisted triple play? Very few of us have seen those in person, and we want to hear about them from those that have.
So, now I’m like everybody else. My uniqueness has vanished. Usually, you might call that a loss.
But not when you used to be, but no longer are, jinxed.