ARLINGTON, Texas — In 20 years scoring games for the Texas Rangers, Steve Weller had never seen a pitcher come within sniffing distance of a no-hitter while he was in the scorer’s chair.
“We’ve had kind of a running joke in the press box down by where I sit for some time because I’ve done parts of 20 seasons now and I’ve never even taken a no-hitter into the seventh,’’ Weller said. “I’ve never been close.”
Then, along came Yu Darvish.
The Rangers’ virtuoso has flirted with his share of no-hitters since coming to Texas a year ago.
In April 2013 he came within an out of a perfect game in a win over the Astros in Houston. Just last month in Arlington, he held the Astros hitless for five innings.
Seven innings into the Rangers’ 8-0 win over the Red Sox Friday night, he was whispering in perfection’s ear.
For 6⅔ innings, the Red Sox kept twisting the Rubik’s Cube trying to figure out Darvish with no luck.
He had sat down 20 straight Sox and struck out 10 when David Ortiz came to the plate.
After getting ahead in the count, 3-and-1, Ortiz shot a popup high to right field. It looked as routine as they come.
But the Rangers, like everyone else in baseball, had their defense shifted.
Second baseman Rougned Odor, playing just his second major league game, was essentially playing shallow right. Ortiz’s popup was heading for an awkward nowhere land between Odor and right fielder Alex Rios.
“It can be tough because it’s a position that you don’t usually get to see very often,” Rios said. “Usually when the second baseman is that far, he gets to you quicker than normal and you have to be aware of how fast he’s going to come while trying to catch the ball at the same time.”
It would’ve been an easy enough play for Rios to make, but he and Odor got their signals crossed. Odor lunged at the last second, but the ball dropped just out of his reach right in front of Rios.
The hit column on the scoreboard at Globe Life Park at Arlington seemed to be stuck in time.
The question was simple. Hit or error? The answer wasn’t.
Weller thought hard about it.
“I generally make calls immediately and it took a while before I announced that,” he said. “I looked at it many times before [making a decision].”
Rios had no doubt that the play was his to make.
“At the end of the day, it’s my catch,” Rios said. “I had to call him off and make that catch.”
From his view in the press box, Weller saw Rios do just that.
“I felt like Alex Rios at one point raised his hand to call him off and the second baseman basically stopped at that point,” Weller said. “These guys are very perceptive, they can see around them. [Odor] felt like there’s no way Rios is going to get to the ball and he lunged for it and that’s when the ball landed.
“That was my feeling that Rios called him off and he made a last-ditch effort when he realized Rios wasn’t going to get there.”
With that he felt comfortable calling an error on Rios.
He looked to the rulebook for backup. Rule 10.12(a)(1) states, “The official scorer shall charge an outfielder with an error if such outfielder allows a fly ball to drop to the ground if, in the scorer’s judgment, an outfielder at that position making an ordinary effort would’ve caught such fly ball.”
“I felt like the second baseman or the right fielder under normal effort could’ve clearly caught the ball,” Weller said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of argument about that.”
Then he went back two years to a meeting of official scorers around the country with the Elias Sports Bureau.
“We talked about plays like this and the consensus — there were some that argued it but it was a consensus — that if a ball goes in the air and two or more players convene on the ball and under normal effort you feel like any one of them could’ve caught the ball, you’re almost obligated to award an error,” he said. “And that’s what I felt happened here.”
Then, to be extra cautious, he called Elias.
“I normally do not do that, but I called them,” Weller said. “They reviewed the play and agreed with the call. I got another call back and I asked them the question about our official scorer’s meeting in New York and if that still stands. They said, in spite of everything else, it’s still a judgment call on the official scorer.”
The judgment call kept Darvish’s no-hitter alive, even though afterward Rios said he had not called for the ball. The no-hitter would come to an end two innings later when Ortiz shot a sharp ground ball through the shift, but Weller understood how the decision might appear.
“Believe me, I’m like the umpires on the replays — you just want to get the thing right,” Weller said. “That’s the key thing is I want to get the play right. I know what it looks like, I know it looks like, ‘There’s the hometown official scorer taking care of the hometown pitcher, giving him a no-hitter.’ But that’s not how I felt. If that play had happened in the first inning, I’d have called it the same way. It’s just that’s the way I saw the play and that’s what I truly believe. That was the right call to make.”
After the error, Darvish walked two of the next three batters he faced. Meanwhile, Weller was still poring over video to make sure he’d made the right call.
“I’ve looked at it many more times,” Weller said. “In the last two innings, that’s all I had on my screen. I didn’t watch the game on my screen. If something would’ve happened I would’ve had to fast-forward it up. But I watched that play, every break, every pitch I could and I still believe I made the right call.”
Darvish’s masterful start — he was pulled after Ortiz’s hit in the ninth and 126 pitches — wasn’t lost on the Rangers. He became the only pitcher in Rangers history to lose a no-hitter twice with just one out left to record. He finished with 12 strikeouts, giving him double-digit Ks for the 21st time. He helped the Rangers record their major-league-leading eighth shutout of the season.
“It’s a shame,” Rios said. “It’s a shame that it didn’t happen. He pitched an excellent game. He was actually extraordinary. His performance was something that you don’t get to see that very often.
“The one thing is you can’t assume that it was going to happen, but you try to make it happen.’’