What do you call it when a baseball player pitches a complete game without giving up a hit?
In most cases, that outing would be known as a no-hitter.
For Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Madison Bumgarner, that type of effort will only be remembered as a “notable achievement.”
In the second half of a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves on April 25, 2021, Bumgarner threw seven innings of no-hit baseball, adding a complete game to his resume in the process.
But, because of the league’s adapted rules for doubleheaders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s impossible for a pitcher to throw a no-hitter due to the fact that each game is only scheduled for seven innings.
According to MLB.com’s Matt Kelly, who cited the Elias Sports Bureau, MLB’s official statistician, a committee decided in 1991 that “neither a team nor an individual pitcher will be credited with a no-no in a scheduled seven-inning game of a doubleheader — unless that game goes to extras.”
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“If the contest extends to at least nine innings and that pitcher (or a team’s group of pitchers) has still not allowed a hit, then it goes down in the history books as a no-no,” Kelly wrote.
Per that same ruling, a no-hit performance in fewer than nine innings would be deemed a “notable achievement.”
According to NoNoHitters.com, Bumgarner’s outing was the 38th “notable achievement” of all time, and goes down as the first of MLB’s COVID-19 era.
If you were to ask Bumgarner, however, he has a different opinion on how the day should be remembered in MLB’s record books.
“I mean, I don’t know, I didn’t give up any hits today,” Bumgarner said after his performance. “I’m not in control of how many innings we’re playing.”
Bumgarner’s opinion is accompanied by a pretty compelling case, as well, when considering how the game will be recorded in his 2021 stat line.
While he didn’t officially get a no-hitter to add to his legacy, Bumgarner earned a complete game designation for his performance.
That makes loads of sense, considering he was the Diamondbacks’ lone pitcher for the second game of their doubleheader against the Braves, and was on the mound for each of the Braves’ 21 outs.
But, why aren’t the rules universal for complete games and no-hitters, considering how connected the two things are?
Why would a pitcher earn a complete game in seven innings, but then have to deal with the opposite reasoning when they don’t give up a hit in the process?
If the idea is that a seven-inning no-hitter requires less effort than the nine-inning version, then why is it okay to consider a seven-inning complete game the same as its nine-inning counterpart?
There is sound reasoning for not deeming seven-inning outings as no-hitters, as it could be thought of as unfair in a variety of ways.
It could upset pitchers that lost no-hitters in the eighth or ninth innings of nine-inning games, and could also seem like a shortcut for those who achieved the feat in seven innings in comparison to nine or more.
But, if record keepers are going to use that logic on one half of the equation, then the same should be considered when looking at the other half, as well.
Bumgarner allowed zero hits throughout the duration of a baseball game. San Diego Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove and Chicago White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon did the same a few weeks prior.
The former’s performance gets its own title and is viewed as a consolation prize. The latter two will go down in history as the first two no-hitters of 2021.
If MLB is going to continue with the idea of seven-inning doubleheaders going forward, then some sort of uniformity will be key to ensure that the league’s history isn’t dealing with these debates for the foreseeable future.