7/8/2014 11:30 A.M. ET
So close: One-hitters part of baseball lore
Frustrating result remains a cherished feat among hurlers of all calibers
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
You don't have to eat, sleep and compute the game to know that Nolan Ryan is Major League Baseball's all-time leader in no-hitters with seven, three more than Sandy Koufax. Cy Young, Bob Feller and Larry Corcoran -- two legends and a multiposition player in the 1880s -- each pitched three no-hitters.
Twenty-four others across history have produced multiple no-hitters. A few, such as Bo Belinsky, have forged a good life out of one night of hitless magic.
As we've learned this season with Josh Beckett, Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum, no-hitters captivate fans and media everywhere. Not nearly as well known are those who come close but fall just short. One-hitters -- at least 27 outs required -- tend to be fairly quickly dismissed, cast in the "Oh, that was a nice try" category. But dozens of one-hitters have been every bit as good and dominant as no-hitters, with none of the acclaim.
There are some familiar names on the list of authors of one-hitters since 1920 -- including the duo at the top -- along with some names that might surprise you.
Two kings: Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller
The most spectacular pitchers of their eras are credited with sharing the distinction of most career one-hitters with 12, doubling the output of any other pitchers in history. Rapid Robert must have seen a lot of himself in Ryan, the humble Express from Alvin, Texas, whose place as the most dominant fireballer in history appears secure.
Along with his seven no-hitters, Ryan's 5,714 strikeouts exceed Randy Johnson, second on the list, by 875. There's something wonderful about that 5,714 number when you recall Babe Ruth's magical home run record of 714, eclipsed by Hank Aaron in 1974. Numerologists, take note.
Ryan's first one-hitter came in his 1970 debut for the Mets at Shea Stadium. Denny Doyle's leadoff single in the first was the lone Phillies hit. Ryan struck out 15 and walked six.
In 1972, his debut season with the Angels after arriving in a deal with the Mets, Ryan unleashed a one-hitter that was as overpowering as any of the no-hitters to come. On July 9, at home, Ryan put runners at the corners with one out on Tommy Harper's walk and Carl Yastrzemski's single. Those were the final Boston baserunners. Ryan struck out Reggie Smith and Rico Petrocelli and erased the next 24 men in succession, finishing with 16 strikeouts.
Ryan's final one-hitter came 19 years after the first on April 26, 1990, as a Ranger in Arlington. The lone White Sox hit was Ron Kittle's bloop single over first base leading off the second inning. Ryan struck out 16 in a 1-0 victory. Six starts later after recovering from a back ailment, Ryan, at 43, unleashed his sixth no-hitter, blowing away the A's in Oakland with 14 strikeouts. Ryan also had 18 career two-hitters.
Like Ryan, Feller fought his control early in his career, leading the American League in walks (208) as well as strikeouts (240) in 1938. The following season, he notched a pair of one-hitters in a four-week span in May and June. His final one-hitter came 16 years later in 1955. Feller could have set higher bars for Ryan if not for four prime seasons lost to military service during World War II.
Don Sutton and Steve Carlton
After Feller and Ryan, a pair of contemporary artists who flourished across long careers come in next with six lifetime one-hitters. While both Sutton and Carlton were voted into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, they were viewed much differently in styles in their prime seasons.
Carlton -- known as "Lefty" and for not talking with the media for most of his career -- was seen as dominant. Sutton, who filled up those pages left empty in press notepads by Carlton, was viewed as a crafty righty who got by with guile as much as with high-octane stuff.
Mixing a big curveball and a changeup with a fastball he moved around with precision, Sutton delivered one-hitters in 1969, '71, '72, '74, '75 and '77. On May 1, 1969, at Candlestick Park, Sutton's bid for a no-hitter ended with Jim Davenport's one-out double in the eighth inning of a 5-0 shutout. Sutton stranded Davenport by striking out Willie Mays.
A two-out single in the eighth by another Giant, catcher Marc Hill, ended Sutton's no-hit ambitions on Aug. 18, 1977, at Dodger Stadium. Sutton, who had 58 career shutouts, wrapped it up by striking out Jack Clark.
In Montreal in 1972, a seventh-inning leadoff single by the Expos' Bob Bailey was the lone hit Sutton yielded in 10 scoreless innings of a 1-0 loss.
Like Sutton, Carton never threw a no-hitter, but he flirted with many. After a first-inning leadoff single by Giants shortstop Chris Speier in San Francisco on May 25, 1972, Carlton allowed only one other baserunner on a walk, while striking out 14.
Carlton had a pair of one-hitters a month apart in 1979. On June 5, the Astros' Jeffrey Leonard singled leading off the sixth in Houston. On July 4, Carlton had retired 19 Mets in a row in Philadelphia when Elliott Maddox doubled to left-center. Ted Simmons' second-inning single was the lone hit for the Cardinals against Lefty at the Vet in '80.
A group photo of pitchers with five one-hitters is impressive: Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Randy Johnson, Bert Blyleven, Vida Blue, Bobo Newsom, Jim Maloney and Dave Stieb.
Among these gifted, colorful figures, Stieb's story stands out as the most compelling. A seven-time All-Star whose 140 wins in the 1980s were surpassed only by Jack Morris, Stieb has to be in contention for the dubious distinction as "Unluckiest Pitcher of His Time -- Or Any Time."
Stieb finally notched his elusive no-hitter in 1990 at Cleveland, but his hard-luck history is hard to fathom. In consecutive starts in the final month of '88 for the Blue Jays, the right-hander from California lost no-hitters at home with two outs and two strikes in the top of the ninth inning. Three years earlier, he lost a no-hitter in the ninth inning on a pair of home runs. Finally, on Aug. 4, 1989, the coup de grace came when Stieb watched a perfect game blow up with two outs in the ninth inning.
For posterity's sake, the hitters who broke Stieb's heart in September 1988 were the Indians' Julio Franco and the Orioles' Jim Traber. In his bid for perfection against the Yankees a year later, Roberto Kelly doubled and Steve Sax singled him home; Stieb held on for a 2-1 win.
In his second start of the 1989 season, Stieb's one-hit shutout at Yankee Stadium was disturbed only by a single by Jamie Quirk. At home in August, Stieb's gem was marred by Hall of Famer Robin Yount's sixth-inning single.
Legends denying legends
Thirteen times since 1920, no-hit bids by future Hall of Famers have been turned into one-hitters by future Hall of Fame players -- from Harry Hooper victimizing Walter Johnson in 1924, to Reggie Jackson taking one away from the great Ryan in 1979. The Express also lost a no-hitter to Yastrzemski in 1972.
Four of Feller's one-hitters came thanks -- but no thanks -- to Hall of Famers: Bobby Doerr twice, Earl Averill and Rick Ferrell. Charlie Gehringer busted up Red Faber's 1929 gem, and Lou Boudreau ended Hal Newhouser's no-hit effort in 1939, five years after Jimmie Foxx had ripped one away from Lefty Grove.
Early Wynn, a good hitter for a 300-game winner, victimized Whitey Ford in his 1953 one-hitter with an infield single. That same season, Richie Ashburn took a no-hitter away from Warren Spahn. In 1969, it was Tony Perez smacking knuckleballer Phil Niekro's no-hit plans.
Perhaps the most famous example of a less-than-household name ruining a bid for immortality came when the Cubs' Jim Qualls singled with one out in the ninth inning on July 9, 1969, against Seaver, ruining Tom Terrific's bid for a perfect game. Seaver finished with 11 strikeouts against a lineup featuring Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo. And a guy named Qualls, who would end up with 31 career hits and a .231 average, stroked the hit that left the perfect pitcher just slightly imperfect.
Four-time one-hit wonders
Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Sam McDowell, Mike Cuellar, Whit Wyatt, Rick Wise, Lon Warneke, Bob Turley, Virgil Trucks, Steve Rogers, Ken Raffensberger, Billy Pierce, Danny Darwin and Woody Fryman all tossed four one-hit gems.
Remarkably, the great Martinez issued just one walk with 48 strikeouts in his four one-hitters. Mussina was almost as precise in his domination: three walks, 48 punchouts.
Most one-hit games in a season
NL: Four -- Grover Cleveland Alexander, 1915; Hugh Daily, 1884. AL: Three -- Stieb, 1988; Addie Joss, 1907.
Don't forget Old Hoss
Never to be forgotten in social media, Old Hoss Radbourn tossed seven one-hitters from 1881-91.
Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.