Only once before had baseball seen a windfall the likes of the seven no-hitters produced in 2012, which included an unprecedented three perfect games and continued an extraordinary trend for the greatest pitching feat in the sport.The other time baseball's pitchers rolled a seven was 1991, and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan started off that string with the final one of his Hall of Fame career -- fittingly, his record seventh. Now the president of the Rangers, the man who knows no-nos better than anyone sees this year's deluge as part of a larger power shift in the game. "It goes in cycles and, you know, I really don't have an explanation for why pitching becomes dominant in certain periods and certain years," Ryan said. "But that's what we're looking at right now."
That much is clear, and no-hitters help tell the tale. In fact, with six in 2010 and another three in 2011 before 2012's record-tying outburst, the current three-year span beats any other such stretch in baseball history with 16 no-hitters.That outdoes the back-to-back showings of seven in 1990 and '91, since 1992 produced just one and there were none in 1989 for a best-case trend over three years of 15. The 2010-12 collection of no-nos is even better than the 15 in 1967-69, an era so dominated by pitching that it led to significant rules changes, including the lowering of the mound and a smaller strike zone. Clearly, this is a mini-golden age for pitchers leaving the bats silent for nine innings. What transpired in 2012 became a microcosm of the myriad ways a no-hitter can be achieved. There were dramatic defensive plays, including a warning-track catch to end one. There was one combined effort, the 10th ever accomplished, and another that got the monkey off the back of an entire organization. There were close calls, stunning authors of history and acts of utter dominance. It all began with Philip Humber's perfect game April 21 at Seattle, a feat made even more remarkable by the way Humber finished the game -- and his season. The gem ended as the Mariners' Brendan Ryan argued a check-swing third strike, with catcher A.J. Pierzynski picking up the Humber slider out of the dirt and throwing to first for the final out. But that wasn't the only surprise ending to this story: By the conclusion of the 2012 season, Mr. Perfect was 6-6 with a 6.44 ERA. By November, Humber was waived by the White Sox and picked up by the Astros. The '12 run of seven concluded as Cincinnati's Homer Bailey worked his way through the Pirates lineup on Sept. 28 for a one-walk, 10-strikeout performance. That one included an error on third baseman Scott Rolen that not everyone in attendance agreed should have kept the no-hitter going. But afterward everyone had to hand it to Homer for putting on an impressive display of his former first-rounder talent. In between, Johan Santana delivered his franchise's first no-hitter in the Mets' 51st year on June 1 against the Cardinals, leaving the Padres as the only Major League franchise without a no-hitter while becoming the first of three historic gems in the span of 18 days. Next came the Mariners' combined job with five relievers chipping in after veteran Kevin Millwood left after six innings with an injury on June 8. Then, the Giants' Matt Cain delivered a perfect game against the Astros on June 18. All three June gems lived on thanks to dramatic defensive plays. Left fielder Mike Baxter banged up his shoulder making a running-into-the-wall catch of a seventh-inning Yadier Molina drive for Santana. Brendan Ryan, on the right side of history this time, showed his vaunted range by charging a ground ball to knock down the Dodgers' Dee Gordon in the ninth. And Gregor Blanco made a running, diving catch of a Jordan Shafer sinking liner in right-center in the seventh inning to keep Cain on track for perfection. Each had that familiar moment of doubt that the no-hitter would continue, only to be erased by wide eyes and cheers. "I just put my head down and looked up and saw Blanco -- he was relentless," manager Bruce Bochy said. But perhaps none of the game-savers matched the drama of the final out of Jered Weaver's May 2 no-hitter, the 10th in Angels history -- incidentally, four of which were delivered by Ryan. Torii Hunter, since departed for the Tigers as a free agent, ranged straight back from shallow right to the warning track on a drive by the Twins' Alexi Casilla to haul in the final out. "When you hit it to me, it's caught," Hunter said. "That's just the way it goes. When he hit it, I had to go get it. I was going to give it my all -- run myself through the wall, knock myself out, be out 5-10 days, it didn't matter. But he was going to have a no-hitter." And then there are times when very little help is required. Such was the case with the perfect game painted by Seattle's Felix Hernandez, who was drilling 95-mph heat into the ninth inning of his 12-strikeout silencing of the Rays on Aug. 15 for the third no-hitter of the season at Safeco Field, yet another no-no first. King Felix got a strong play by Brendan Ryan -- there he is again, maybe it's a Ryan thing -- as the shortstop pegged out B.J. Upton after a deep backhand stop in the seventh. You can bet the real Mr. Ryan when it comes to no-hitters likes seeing pitchers getting the ultimate upper hand as often as they did in 2012. "I think the powers that be believe scoring is what the fans want to see. I still enjoy a good pitching duel," Ryan said. "The novice fan wants to see the scoring, they want to see the home runs and the action. But I think the baseball purists enjoy a great pitching performance more than offense."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. Reporter T.R. Sullivan contributed to this article. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.