CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Baseball is a sport filled with superstitions and unwritten rules, with many surrounding one type of game: a no-hitter.
Whether the rule is to not talk to the pitcher during one; to not say the words “no-hitter”; or don’t warm up a pitcher in the bullpen during a no-no, baseball minds everywhere have their stances on these unwritten rules.
Illinois has a storied baseball history, but not one with many no-hitters. To find the most recent no-no in program history, you need to look back to April 1985, when Boo Champagne through nine no-hit innings for Illinois against Bradley.
A legendary name, and a legendary game.
But Illinois’ Andy Fisher had a chance to match that. Fisher was through seven innings of no-hit baseball on March 8 in Arizona against Grand Canyon. Fisher came out for the eighth inning with the hopes of continuing his stellar — and historic — performance.
Grand Canyon third baseman Tyler Wyatt sent a push bunt toward Branden Comia on the first-base side and reached base to break up the no-no. The bunt was executed perfectly, except for the fact that the action broke one of baseball’s oldest unwritten rule: Don’t bunt to break up a no-hitter.
There are clearly loopholes to this very vague rule. For example, if the game is considered a close game (usually one that can be tied with one swing of the bat) then a bunt is fair game because the game’s end result is still in question for the most part.
If the bunt comes before the seventh inning, there usually is no problem regarding the timing of the bunt. However, if the game is a blowout, a bunt is not necessary for strategy reasons.
So, when you really break down this ‘rule’, Grand Canyon violated it in every way.
The bunt came in the eighth inning of a 5-0 game. The game was past the innings benchmark of seven and past the runs benchmark of four. The rule was broken.
This isn’t just my opinion; the game’s pitcher, pitching coach, and a major leaguer all agree.
Fisher was dealing through seven shutout innings of no-hit baseball. Pitching Coach Drew Dickinson warned him he was nearing 100 pitches, and then sent him out for his eighth inning of work.
That no-hitter was broken up by the first batter Fisher faced in the eighth, with a push bunt single by Wyatt.
“At the time I didn’t think anything of it, because I figured five runs wasn’t an undoable inning for them. But then when I got into the dugout everyone was telling me that that shouldn’t be done, and I thought about it more.”
As time continued to go by for Fisher, the more agonizing it became.
“Maybe it was a pride thing for them, trying not to get no hit, I don’t really know.”
When it originally happened, Fisher wasn’t angry or sad.
“On the spot I was like, ‘well, shoot there it goes,’ and then as I said I walked back into the dugout everyone was complaining that they shouldn’t have done that...I was just happy that I had a good outing honestly.”
Instead of a chance at Illini history, Fisher was removed after that at bat. But if he would’ve continued the game with the no-hitter, the redshirt senior thinks he could have completed the game.
“I think Drew would’ve let me. He told me I was already at more than 100 pitches, but I feel like he has a baseball sense where you got a guy out there in possibly the best start of his career.”
The Illini’s pitching coach was especially upset about the way Fisher’s no-hit bid ended.
“I sort of feel like I am in the minority here, but I was not happy. I don’t know if it’s my pro-mentality standpoint, but when you look at the time, and score and everything it just wasn’t right, in my opinion. If it was anywhere, if it was one, two, three, four, I’ll give you four nothing, because that’s one swing, right? That’s one swing to tie the game. It was past one swing of the game — it was 5-0 in the eighth inning. Now if it’s the sixth inning, again, you still have four innings of work; it’s the eighth inning. I didn’t like it.”
Dickinson was even more upset because of the familiar faces in the opposing team’s dugout. Faces that he believed should have had more respect for that unwritten rule.
Dickinson also pointed out his relationship with the Grand Canyon coaching staff, having played against GCU head coach Andy Stankiewicz and pitching coach Rich Dorman in minor league ball.
“It’s one of those unwritten rules of baseball that I tend to believe in. I understand it can, when you look at it, it started a rally that scored three runs, but I don’t care. We won the game still, but I just don’t think you do that personally. I’m not happy with it, but we won the game. It is what it is, and that’s ultimately what matters.”
Grand Canyon declined comment for this story.
Whether or not the call came from Stankiewicz on the bench or straight from Tyler Wyatt remains unknown.
But for another opinion on the story, we turned to a Major League scenario from 2016.
Seattle Mariners speedster Dee Gordon violated MLB’s performance enhancing drug policy in 2016.
But the then-Marlin did have enough baseball integrity to not bunt to break up a no-hitter when Gio Gonzalez had a no-hitter in the sixth inning. Even though that game was 1-0 (in the realm of acceptability), Gordon told the Miami Herald he was not going to bunt.
“My game is to bunt,” Gordon said in a Miami Herald report, “I didn’t know if I could bunt or not. I was kind of in a weird situation for myself.”
Gordon came up later in the game, and again did not bunt. Instead, he swung away and broke the no-hitter that way. The baseball gods seemed to reward him.
If that’s the way we are looking at it, the baseball gods will be out to get Grand Canyon’s third baseman Tyler Wyatt.
As for Fisher, he should be throwing a perfect game any day now.
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