On April 9, 2021, the San Diego Padres broke the wretched curse of the missing no-hitter.
When Johan Santana achieved the feat for the New York Mets in 2012, the Padres became the only team with no no-no to its credit. In his second start for the team, Joe Musgrove pitched a beauty of a game against the Rangers in Texas that had fans sitting on the edge of their seats until Isiah Kiner-Falefa grounded out to shortstop Ha-Seong Kim.
Of course, the dugout emptied, and Musgrove’s teammates swarmed the man on the mound. Manager Jayce Tingler could finally take a deep breath after watching Musgrove’s pitch count mount. He’d undoubtedly been torn between the desire to break the curse and concern over the health of his pitcher’s arm. However, Tingler later indicated he didn’t intend to remove Musgrove from the game until he gave up a hit. His thrifty last three innings (35 pitches total) helped Musgrove keep his total number of pitches at 112.
The Padre’s no-hit curse began in 1970, the second year of the team’s existence when manager Preston Gomez replaced Clay Kirby with pinch hitter Cito Gaston in the eighth inning. Later, an unapologetic Gomez would say that he played to win. Kirby had walked two batters in the first inning, and a groundout had given the Mets a 1-0 lead.
Three other Padre pitchers have taken a no-hitter into the ninth inning: Steve Arlin (8 2/3 innings in 1972), Andy Ashby (8 innings in 1997), Chris Young (8 2/3 innings in 2006). In 2011 five pitchers held the Los Angeles Dodgers hitless through 8 2/3 innings. Ironically, Chris Young, who twice flirted with a no-no when he played for the Padres, recently took the position of general manager for the Texas Rangers.
Musgrove broke a streak that lasted for 8,205 games against the Rangers in their home park. He had felt some back tightness while warming up and had to battle and make adjustments during the game. Since he never allows himself a bathroom break during his starts, the copious amounts of water he’d taken made their presence known the last three or four innings.
However, he had the Rangers ‘ number from the beginning of the game, retiring the first 11 hitters. With two outs in the fourth, he hit Joey Gallo on the leg but held the runner and went on to retire the next 16 batters. Eliminate the hit batter, and Musgrove would have pitched a perfect game.
His battery mate, Victor Caratini, leaped into Musgrove’s arms as the celebration began. Caratini has the distinctive honor of being behind the plate for Alec Mills’ no-hitter with the Chicago Cubs last year, making him the backstop for the last two no-hitters in baseball.
The feat means even more for Musgrove as he grew up in San Diego, as did his father, Mark. The latter lived in National City and rooted for the Padres from their beginning. But he has admitted he was torn when the Padres traded for his son and expressed concern over all the distractions that would come from playing with his hometown team. So far, the trade has worked out well for both team and player. Musgrove proudly wears the number 44 in honor of his favorite player growing up, Jake Peavy, the Cy Young award winner in 2007.
Musgrove’s family watched the game from their Alpine home in the usual positions–his parents and one sister Marisa on the couch, the other sister Terra on the floor. Although they’d ordered dinner from Uber Eats, no one could touch their food until the last pitch.
During the radio broadcast, Tony Gwynn Jr., Jesse Agler, and long-time producer Dave Marcus lamented the fact that Ted Leitner, who had been the guy behind the mic for 41 years, would not be part of the action. However, Leitner reassured listeners on Twitter.
No #Padres fans I do NOT feel badly about not calling the no hitter! Joyous for the team and for Joe and for @jesseagler . Would never trade my 41 wonderful years for that one game. Thank you all so much for even thinking of me on a special day in Padres history. I love you all.
— Ted Leitner (@TedLeitner) April 10, 2021
Musgrove has been vocal about his strong desire to help the Padres win the team’s first World Series title. So far, he’s done his part with a record of 2-0 and an ERA of 0.000. Although still very early in the season, his historic achievement helped right a slightly unsteady boat. The Padres began the season winning three of four against the Arizona Diamondbacks but lost two of three to the San Francisco Giants. The loss of Fernando Tatis Jr. to injury weighed heavily on the team (and the town), and the Padres hadn’t performed at the level expected when the season began.
The buzz surrounding the San Diego Padres holds both a promise but also a burden for players trying to live up to the hype. No doubt, Joe Musgrove’s historic no-hitter will help cement the bond in the clubhouse, tighten up the play on the field, and convince the baseball world outside of San Diego that the Padres are in it to win it.