|One-time Padre great Jake Peavy, now with the White Sox, never cracked the no-hitter code. (Getty Images)|
One week ago, Johan Santana fired strike three past David Freese, and one of baseball's quirkiest ongoing stories had a wrap: The New York Mets, one-time home of such pitching luminaries as Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Dwight Gooden, finally had their first no-hitter.
And with it, the spotlight swung to a franchise that could copyright and sell quirky the way one of its former owners once peddled Big Macs.
The Padres are on the clock.
Now in their 44th season, with 6,897 box scores on their resume, the Padres are the only team in the majors who've never had a pitcher throw a no-hitter.
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This is a franchise that has produced four Cy Young winners: Randy Jones (1976), Gaylord Perry (1978), closer Mark Davis (1989) and Jake Peavy (2007).
This is a franchise that, since 2004, has played its home games in Petco Park -- which is to pitchers as a masseuse is to a bone-weary marathon runner.
And still ... nothing.
"It's amazing, but it's coincidental," manager Bud Black says. "You can probably find other bizarre things, maybe something like we've had three triples in one inning and the Pirates haven't."
Black, a former pitcher himself, was on the business end of Dave Steib's no-hitter for Toronto on Sept. 2, 1990, while pitching for the Indians. That remains the only no-hitter in Blue Jays history.
The Diamondbacks and Rays, who debuted in the majors in 1998, have had no-hitters. So have the Marlins and Rockies, who came into existence in 1993. And so has everyone else.
Except the Padres.
"I think the fact that they haven't had anyone hit for the cycle is even more crazy," says Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery, who played for the Padres from 1979-1989. "There have been some great hitters here. There have been some great pitchers here. It shows you something about this game.
"You can't assume anything. You can't expect anything. It is nuts. You're telling me Tony Gwynn never hit for the cycle?"
That's exactly what we're telling you.
But we'll tell you about that another day.
With Santana's no-hitter still generating e-mail regarding umpire Adrian Johnson's blown call on Carlos Beltran's liner, the fact that the Padres now are the only precinct in the majors checking in without a no-hitter is staggering.
Of course it's coincidental, as Black says.
But not completely.
This is a franchise that came within one strike of a no-no with Steve Arlin on the mound against the Phillies on July 18, 1972, when, jaw-droppingly, then-manager Don Zimmer played a hunch that Denny Doyle was going to drop a two-strike bunt with the Phillies trailing 5-0 and two out in the ninth.
So Zimmer signaled rookie third baseman Dave Roberts to move in on the grass ... and Doyle beat a pitch into the hard dirt in front of home place that, wouldn't you know it, bounced high over Roberts' head on its way into left field for a single.
Had Roberts been playing regular depth, he could have fielded the ball for the third out.
But that's not the story that has persevered over the decades.
This is a franchise that nearly had a no-no in its second season of existence ... until manager Preston Gomez infamously removed Clay Kirby for a pinch-hitter (Cito Gaston) in the eighth inning of a game in which Kirby was no-hitting the Mets on July 21, 1970.
Kirby had given up a run in the first inning on a walk, two steals and a ground ball. But the no-hitter was intact.
To this day, so is the legend.
Randy Jones, who was the starting and winning pitcher in the 1976 All-Star Game and today is one of the hosts of the club's post-game radio show, heard all about it while pitching for the Padres from 1973-1980.
"Anytime anybody came close to a no-hitter, even a one-hitter, here'd come the Clay Kirby no-hitter story," Jones says. "It was pretty funny."
Reliever Jack Baldschun immediately surrendered a Bud Harrelson single to lead off the ninth, and Kirby was left to fume. He complained to reporters afterward about Gomez's lack of faith in him.
"I remember that game very well," says Dave Garcia, 91, Gomez's first-base coach who went on to manage the California Angels (1977-1978) and Cleveland Indians (1979-1982). "I didn't like what Kirby said afterward. I mentioned to him, 'You walked the guy.'"
Kirby, who died of a heart attack in 1991 at the age of 43, told the Los Angeles Times on the 20th anniversary of the game that he was not bitter. But it clearly continued to gnaw at him.
"I'd like to look back and say a baseball I pitched is in the Hall of Fame," Kirby told the Times. "When I try to look back at the logic behind it, I don't see it. We were 20 or 30 games behind and we needed something to drum up interest in the ballclub. A no-hitter would have given the franchise a much bigger boost than one more victory."
Gomez, who died in 2009 at the age of 85, told the Times in the same article: "I always felt that when you're playing this game, you play to win. Sure, you want to see somebody get a no-hitter, but in this particular game, we were behind 1-0."
It was an unforgettable moment, one that, 42 years later, still provokes great debate.
"You have to pinch-hit there," Black says.
"He's hitting," Bruce Bochy, current Giants and former Padres manager, says of the pitcher. "I've got to let him hit."
Black notes that a manager today would "get grilled" for allowing the pitcher to hit in that situation. "The goal of the game is to win, not to throw a no-hitter," he says.
Bochy clarifies: The only time he would bat for the pitcher in that scenario is in a must-win game during the pennant race.
On July 21, 1970, the Padres were 38-58, 28 ½ games out, en route to a 99-loss season and a last-place finish in NL attendance.
"Part of my reasoning is," Bochy says, "I don't want him to have to live with that for who knows how long, 'Could I have thrown a no-hitter?'"
Kirby lived with it for another 21 years. The Padres have lived with it for 42.
Of course, there also is another prism through which to view it.
"How embarrassing would it be for your starting pitcher to throw a no-hitter and lose 1-0?" Jones says. "That might be more embarrassing than if we didn't have one."
With a seven-year head start on the Padres, the Mets, born in 1962, probably should have landed in the no-hit history books first.
Mets pitchers had thrown a whopping 35 one-hitters before Santana handcuffed the Cardinals.
San Diego, with 25 one-hitters, still awaits lightning to strike.
"I hope I see the son of a b---- when it finally happens," Jones says, chuckling. "That will really tick me off if I'm in Alaska fishing or something when someone finally throws one.
"That would really irritate me."