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When Germán Márquez allowed a ninth-inning lead-off hit Tuesday—a solidly hit single to right field—he lost his bid for a no-hitter. It came with all the typical notes of such a moment: A crowd that had risen to its feet in anticipation shifted to one giving a standing ovation. They applauded to show their appreciation for a job well-done, and they applauded to show that it was clearly, unambiguously over. It did not particularly matter that the game was ongoing. It mattered only that its central storyline had wrapped up.
Which is something of a shame. Because Márquez went on to do something that is arguably more intriguing than a no-hitter: He made quick work of the next few batters to throw a Maddux, a shutout on fewer than 100 pitches.
There is no culture of achievement around a Maddux; unlike a no-hitter, it has no mythology around the concept of a jinx, and it carries no historic tradition. It does not prompt a crowd to stand for the ninth inning in anticipation. It does not prompt a crowd to do anything, because most people in a crowd won’t know that it’s happening, or that it has a name at all. (The term was coined by writer Jason Lukehart in 2012, and the career leader for the stat is still, you guessed it, Greg Maddux.) It is a bit of baseball trivia that was born a creature of the internet and largely remains so today.
But right now, it’s rarer than a no-hitter, and perhaps a more intriguing feat to pull off.
Márquez was trying for the seventh individual no-hitter of 2021. But his Maddux was the first of the season—the first since Yusei Kikuchi’s on Aug. 18, 2019, since which there have been nine no-hitters. (Plus one kind-of-but-technically-not contribution from Madison Bumgarner.) If you’ll recall the discourse of this May, when there were four no-hitters in two weeks, this season has already been home to plenty of consternation over whether the achievement still means what it once did and how many of them might be too many. A Maddux, meanwhile, had not been done in almost two years before Márquez pulled it off on Tuesday.
That’s the statistical case for the current importance of the Maddux: if the accomplishment was once roughly as common as the no-hitter, it’s now far less so, with the natural increase in interest that can accompany a decrease in frequency. But the aesthetic case for the feat might be even more compelling. Because a Maddux comes with something that a no-hitter does not—a delightfully strong sense of self.
A no-hitter is defined in one dimension. Its condition is stated in its name; the requirements here are plainly straightforward with no loopholes or tricks. This is both a no-hitter’s best trait and its worst—it makes the feat easy to define but almost impossible to describe. A no-hitter is a game where a pitcher does not allow a hit, but it might be a game that was a fraction of an inch from perfection, or a game that was a bit of a splotchy mess, or anything in between. It can be wonderful. But it doesn’t need to be. Which is why it was possible for baseball to have the conversation that it did earlier this year: “Do no-hitters still matter?” is not a question you could so easily ask if the accomplishment came with some inherent flair. It is special because it has traditionally been special—because it is generally rare and because it is historically resonant. So if it’s not as rare, in an offensive environment where it’s easier to achieve, when the ball is put in play less often across the board? It’s only natural that it might begin to feel less special.
A Maddux has a different guiding force. It’s a game with clear aesthetic principles—every instance of the achievement must fit in the same neat, efficient box, with its shutout lines and its double-digit pitch count. It requires a decent pace and a certain economy of movement; 100-pitch limits don’t allow for anything else. Therein lies the brilliance of an achievement defined not just by its outcome but by what it takes to get there. Of course, it lacks the straightforwardness of a no-hitter, to say nothing of the history. But it has something else: a sense of style.
To lose a no-hitter is to lose a shot at history. But Márquez walked off the mound with something that just might have been more interesting in the present.
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