Calling a no-hitter is nothing new for Don Orsillo. He’s called four — or as many as Jason Varitek caught — in his 21 years as a big league broadcaster. But the circumstances around each are always special.
The first three came during his 15-year stint as the Red Sox’ play-by-play voice on NESN. That includes a no-no in his very first game, pitched by Hideo Nomo.
The fourth came last Friday night, when Padres starter and San Diego native Joe Musgrove no-hit the Texas Rangers. That wasn’t just the first no-hitter Orsillo called during his six seasons with the Padres, who immediately brought him aboard after the Red Sox did not renew his contract following the 2015 season; it was the first anyone had called.
Musgrove’s long-awaited gem was the first no-hitter in the San Diego franchise’s 53-year history.
It was a special moment even beyond the standards of a no-hitter. The Padres had been waiting so long for one that Orsillo said it came up with management when he first joined the organization.
“This was something that was talked to me when I got the job,” he said. “It was kind of funny. They’re like, ‘Listen, we know you’ve done this three times and we’re hoping you can bring us some luck.’
“It was just picture-perfect, to have the guy [Musgrove] that did be someone from here, a season ticket-holder here as a kid growing up. It’s almost like it waited for him.”
After making the postseason for the first time in 14 years last season, the Padres loaded up on talent in the offseason, acquiring top-notch starting pitchers Yu Darvish and Blake Snell. Orsillo said the situation reminds him a bit of the 2003 Red Sox, who were built to win, didn’t get over the hump that year, but broke an 86-year championship drought in 2004.
“They very badly want to win a championship here," said Orsillo. “They very badly wanted a no-hitter. They’ve come so close so many times, to have it happen this year with the attention that this team has drawn, it’s amazing. To be a part of this was so incredible for me. I get it now. I’ve been here long enough to understand the Friar faithful, what they’ve gone through.”
Besides the Nomo no-hitter, Orsillo also called Clay Buchholz’s against the Orioles in September 2007 and Jon Lester’s against the Royals in May 2008. He said he never really had any opinion on whether an announcer should let viewers know about a no-hitter in progress — some consider it a jinx — before he got to San Diego.
“I’ve done both things. I think I told viewers Lester was working on a no-hitter starting around the sixth inning, but didn’t mention it during Buchholz’s, for no good reason. But when I got here I took over for Dick Enberg and he had real thoughts [that you must tell the viewers], and I know Vin Scully has real thoughts on that. I’ve talked to him, and I’ve talked to other guys in the league about it, and they all say it’s your responsibility to let the viewer know what’s going on. That’s your job.
“So now I think this whole jinx stuff is just such crap," Orsillo added with a laugh.
“Eck [Hall of Fame pitcher and NESN analyst Dennis Eckersley] ran into it once when we were in Detroit. I think it was Buchholz who got into the seventh with a no-hitter. Eck started talking about the no-hitter in progress and I didn’t, and the next day Eck got crushed. WEEI was on him and he’s like, ‘Dude, I threw a no-hitter in the big leagues, and I didn’t give a rat’s [expletive] what somebody was saying in the booth.’ "
Orsillo said experience has made it much easier for him to narrate a no-hitter in progress, to hit the right tone and beats as the suspense builds. It wasn’t so easy that first time, when Nomo’s no-hitter doubled as Orsillo’s welcome-to-the-big-leagues moment.
“I was so nervous my first game. I had done 10 years of minor league radio and was ill-prepared for TV, and here I am, my first TV game with a no-hitter in the works," he said. “I’ll never forget it. I’m already beyond tight, and the producer says into my ear after the top of the ninth, ‘Welcome the country. ESPN is joining us for the bottom of the ninth.’ I was like, ‘Really? OK, here we go.’
“I went to bed thinking it was a really good call and I didn’t screw anything up and it was great. And then I woke up the next day to a WEEI producer calling me and saying, ‘Hey, you’re getting crushed. Wanna come on?’ It was like 6:30 in the morning. ‘You wanna come on?’ ‘No, no, I’m good.’ It turned out to be kind of a bad thing for me. I was like, ‘My first game, and I don’t know if I’m going to make it to my second game.’ But after you get past it a little, you really can’t beat a no-hitter in your first game.”
Calling the first in a franchise’s history is tough to beat, too.
“It’s so exciting to be a part of it," he said. “It’s so cool, because it’s not a first for me, but it’s a first for them. I feel really lucky to be able to narrate something like that.
“I didn’t know anything about San Diego or the Padres when I came here. I just knew that I was unemployed and there are only 29 of these jobs, and they don’t open up often. I thought there might be a really good chance I was out for a year or two before finding a spot.
“The fan base has been really, really welcoming. The thing I was most concerned about when I came here was starting over with a new fan base, and they have been great. I feel like part of the fabric already.”