Jorge Lopez's bid for history: No-hitters, one-hitters and the MLB.TV era of 'Turn on the game!'
How great is it to live in an era where a random Saturday text can let you watch someone chase history?
Maybe the craziest thing about Nolan Ryan's seven career no-hitters is how many more he might've racked up, with a bit of luck. That's because the Ryan Express also threw a ridiculous twelve one-hitters.
If you didn't know about Ryan's many near-misses, you're not alone. For the first century-plus of the sport's history, many of baseball's most impressive accomplishments happened in relative darkness. That's because, unless the matchup they wanted to see happened to land in the coveted Game of the Week slot, national audiences didn't have many viewing choices, leaving signature regular-season moments to be witnessed almost entirely by locals.
Saturday night marked the 72,648th time that fans could thank the baseball gods, and the internet, for MLB.TV. As fun as it can be to watch your favorite team play every night, the real joy of MLB.TV is the opportunity to flip around to any game, any time. To watch two fun West Coast teams battle at one in the morning, or catch a hot-shot rookie making his big league debut on a rebuilding team.
MLB.TV truly shines, though, when a pitcher takes a no-hit bid into the late innings. On Saturday night, the stakes crept even higher. The no-hit bid in question was actually a perfect game in progress. And the pitcher trying to accomplish the feat was Jorge Lopez. It's scintillating and nerve-wracking enough to get to watch an established star take aim at history. When you get a chance to see what could become just the 24th perfecto in MLB history, twirled by the most obscure pitcher ever to do it (sorry, Phil Humber), that alone might justify the $115.99 annual subscription cost that the league funnels into its Scrooge McDuck-sized vault.
The Brewers drafted Lopez 70th overall in 2011, out of Caguas Military Academy in Puerto Rico. His progress from that point forward was a mixed bag. Last winter, Fangraphs prospect expert Eric Longenhagen ranked Lopez as the 23rd-best prospect in Milwaukee's system, offering this lukewarm review:
Lopez was sent back to Double-A after Triple-A Colorado Springs wreaked havoc on his curveball and confidence in 2016. There, he began a transition to the bullpen that much of the industry has awaited for some time. He sits 93-97 out of the bullpen with an above-average, low-80s curveball and plus-flashing, upper-80s changeup, for which Lopez lacks much feel for locating. His command is comfortably below average. Lopez has late-inning stuff, but his command and on-mound makeup could limit him to low-leverage innings.
Lopez's biggest saving grace, and his ticket to the big leagues, was his fastball. It's a pitch he consistently fired in the mid-90s, with a bit of wild, Frisbee movement when it really hummed. But after two major-league starts in 2015 and one token appearance two years later, Lopez's Brewers career appeared to be going nowhere. So when the Royals showed interest this July as the two teams discussed a deadline deal for Mike Moustakas, the Crew was more than happy to oblige.
All of that takes us to Saturday night, when Lopez's fastball made Twins hitters look like Little Leaguers all night long. Normally when a pitch really baffles the opposition, that shows up in the form of swings and misses. But Lopez generated only six whiffs among the 110 pitches he threw on the night. He also rang up an impressive 26 called strikes, though, thanks mostly to the bendiness of his heater.
The MLB.TV-subscribing masses probably caught their first glimpse of that delightful fastball in the bottom of the eighth inning. That's because by then, Lopez had set down 21 Twins in a row, prompting your proper baseball fan friends to text you and demand that you turn on the Royals-Twins game immediately.
For those of you who grew up on baseball and are now, say, 30 years old, let that sink in for a second. Instead of waiting forever for SportsCenter to maybe squeeze in a little coverage between overdoses of college football highlights (or hell, scrounging for newspaper agate type, if you're from the older set), you get to watch all the drama of potential perfection in real time, on a gigantic, high-definition TV that would've seemed like a dream when you were a kid and now probably cost you about 12 bucks.
It's a shame that Lopez lost his perfect game on a leadoff walk to Max Kepler in the ninth inning, and that the no-hitter perished when Robbie Grossman singled right afterward. The bottom line is that for a little while, all of us sitting on our couches in Houston and Omaha and Fresno and Winnipeg got to ride the same roller-coaster of euphoria and nausea that Lopez, his teammates, and everyone at Target Field experienced in person.
Even though live-streaming baseball games has now been possible for 16 years, being able to drop everything and feel one of the biggest rushes of sports fandom at a moment's notice, like we did with Jorge Lopez, feels like a damn miracle for those of us old enough to count the seconds until Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola entered our living rooms every Saturday.
So mark down September 8, 2018 as another little bundle of joy for those of us who live and die with every pitch from the moment we get that "Turn on the game!!!!" text. Whether the final result ends like one of Ryan's seven no-nos or twelve nearly no-nos, we all still got to chase the dragon for a little while on a random Saturday night. Which is pretty damn cool.
Thanks to Dave Kaufman for the "Turn on KC/MIN" text, and for inspiring the idea for this post.
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