Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter was like Cats.
Cats is an incoherent mess of a Broadway musical. There’s no real story, there’s like one good song and a couple maybe arguably decent ones, there are a bunch of folks prowling around in cat suits and generally looking ridiculous. Did I mention there’s no story? Because there isn’t. Nothing happens at all. It’s just cat-people dancing around and not really acting anything like cats.
All this aside, Cats is the second-longest-running show in Broadway history, having hung on for eighteen years (1982-2000) and made Andrew Lloyd Weber tons and tons of money and given him license to create no end of additional, equally horrible shows.
On Tuesday, the Twins’ Francisco Liriano joined a club the vast majority of pitchers (among them Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez) do not, hurling a no-hitter against the rival White Sox. Yet, he simply didn’t seem very effective; he walked six, struck out only two, and was bailed out by a number of stunning defensive plays, just barely throwing more strikes than balls. Liriano was brilliant in 2010 and was beyond brilliant for the first half of 2006 (before his injury that necessitated Tommy John surgery), but was far from brilliant on Tuesday. It was probably not one of Liriano’s ten best single-game performances, and was one of the worst no-hitters ever authored (see this, this and this).
Just as nobody really seems to know why Cats was successful, nobody really knows why Liriano was successful on Tuesday. It’s just one of those things that happens. Yovani Gallardo’s near-no-no was more or less in the same vein.
Jaime Garcia’s near-no-hitter was like Follies.
When, on Friday, the Cardinals’ Jaime Garcia took a perfect game into the 8th inning, he was doing it against a pretty good Brewers lineup featuring three of the hottest hitters in the National League, in Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. He eventually walked a batter and permitted two hits, but until Weeks’ ringing double with two outs in the ninth, when Garcia did permit contact (including the Betancourt hit in the 7th that broke up the no-hitter), it was very weak contact, and he struck out 8 while walking just the one. Garcia completely dominated the Brewers — as he’s dominated most of his opponents so far this season — but nobody remembers a two-hit shutout. Liriano will forever be able to say he threw a no-hitter once, while Garcia, who outpitched Liriano in every way this week, has nothing like that to show for it.
Steven Sondheim is, to me, the best writer of musicals there has ever been, and 1971’s Follies was close to his best work. Two aging, dysfunctional couples (and several others, but mostly the two couples) who had performed with each other in a follies show decades earlier revisit their old theater at its closing, revisiting and rekindling a lot of things that probably should have been left alone, and most of the second act winds up being kind of a show-within-a-show in which the main characters act out their deepest insecurities and neuroses in the typically light-n-fluffy follies form. It’s funny and sad and thought-provoking, and the music is basically perfect–nothing wasted, everything carefully crafted to fit the situation, even if it’s not always perfectly pleasant to hear (so basically the opposite of Cats).
Follies ran for just over a year, and ultimately lost money, just not accessible enough for most people. Though it won Tony Awards for best actor, actress, director and score, the Tony for best musical somehow went to the rock-musical version of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, which has scarcely been heard since. It was the equivalent of when Saving Private Ryan won just about every other Oscar but then Shakespeare in Love won best picture, the crowd pleaser bumping off the better-but-hard-to-watch production. Except this was worse..
So Garcia’s game is Follies to Liriano’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. See?
Justin Verlander’s no-hitter was like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
A Funny Thing Happened is another Sondheim musical, one of his early ones, from 1962. It’s deliberately silly and frivolous, opening with a song that declares “This time, it all turns out all right! Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight!” It’s still very good, brilliant even; clever, consistently funny, not nearly as dumbed down as, say, Cats. But it’s just nowhere close to Sondheim’s best work, and probably wasn’t really intended to be. He’s been a lot better, and often.
Nonetheless, A Funny Thing Happened was probably Sondheim’s biggest popular success, with nearly 1000 performances in its initial run, a successful film and several subsequent revivals. It was also among his most decorated shows, winning a slew of Tony Awards, including the best musical award that would somehow elude Follies.
Verlander’s second career no-hitter, on Saturday, was a little like that. It was a brilliant performance, miles better than Liriano’s. He walked just one batter, and faced the minimum 27 batters by inducing a double play after the walk. But he struck out only four Jays (a team that strikes out more than the average), which tied a senior low and was less than half his career average per nine innings. He didn’t get by by piling up grounders, either; only about half of the balls put in play off of him were ground balls. And it bears mention that with Jose Bautista out, the Blue Jays lineup Verlander was facing was especially weak: the 1-2-3 combo of Yunel Escobar, Corey Patterson and Juan Rivera is one of the weakest you’ll see this year.
Verlander has been better than he was on Saturday, and not only in his other no-hitter (four walks, but twelve strikeouts), but probably also on September 24, 2010, and May 8, 2009, among others. His performance on Saturday was very, very good — great, even — but not one of his best. But because he registered a no-hitter, it’ll be treated like a true masterpiece, while the other, better games he’s pitched will mostly be forgotten. So it’s a lot like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.