BOSTON – No-hitters are just as meaningful to catchers as they are to pitchers. And just as elusive.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia is still waiting for his first one. He caught one in the minors. But that one really doesn’t count.
“A six-inning game in a doubleheader in the minors, seven-inning game, whatever it was,” he said.
But never in a nine-inning game in the big leagues.
“I can’t imagine,” he said, of how special it would be. “Every catcher talks about it. It’s one of those things, for me, it shows the preparation that we have as a staff, the preparation as a pitcher to a catcher, and the ability to execute. At the end of the game, he’s the one throwing it. But it’s got to work together in order for it to happen.”
He is still waiting. But Saltalamacchia knew even before Clay Buchholz threw his first pitch -- a called strike -- that the right-hander had something special going.
“From the get-go in the bullpen, he looked good,” Saltalamacchia said. “The ball was coming out great. Then we got in the game, he couldn’t miss my glove. Put it down and away, he hit it. We had a good zone today where the umpire liked the ball down. That’s where Clay likes to live. So he did a great job just mixing pitches. He made some any good pitches. It’s hard to hit someone who throws like that to both sides of the plate.”
But as the game went on, and Buchholz neatly put each inning into the scorebook without a hit, the pressure on the catcher mounted.
“Yeah, you obviously want to keep the flow of the game going,” he said. “Keep him throwing strikes, but you don’t want to just give in and throw a heater over the middle when you know what’s on the line.
“So, yeah, there’s that little pressure. I think the seventh inning was when I actually felt like, ‘Hey, this is in sight. Let’s make some good pitches, not give anything away.’ He just took care of the rest.”
Buchholz’s teammates, with their baseball-typical rituals and superstitions, took care of what was expected of them in the dugout.
“I was sitting in my same spot,” Saltalamacchia said. “I didn’t want to move. I didn't want to do anything [different]. My shirt was untucked for seven straight innings. I couldn’t tuck it back in.”
Buchholz carried the no-hitter into the eighth inning. But Kelly Johnson – who entered the game hitting just .182 and had already struck out twice against Buchholz in the game, and was 0-for-9 in his career against him at that point – led off with clean single to right field on Buchholz’s second pitch of the inning, a curveball.
“He’s a good fastball hitter,” Saltalamacchia said. “So we kind of stuck with our game plan of getting ahead with some breaking balls, just kind of keep him off of it. Earlier in the game we were pounding him in. But he hadn’t really looked too good on the curveball so I think that’s why we wanted to go back to back with it. Tip your cap. He broke his bat and it fell in.”
Saltalamacchia was disappointed to see the potential no-no gone.
“I was,” he said. “It killed me because I’ve seen Clay throw really well but today was amazing. He was just spotting every spot.”
It was the sharpest Saltalamacchia has seen Buchholz. “By far,” he said.
Saltalamacchia was not with the Red Sox for Buchholz’s only no-hitter, in his second big-league appearance, against the Orioles on Sept. 1, 2007. Jason Varitek caught that, one of the record four no-no’s he caught in his career.
On Sunday afternoon, Saltalamacchia had to settle for a 5-0 shutout.
“It was a lot of fun,” Saltalamacchia said. “To have a guy go out there with that kind of stuff and just hit his stuff whenever he wanted to, throw any pitch at any time, it makes it fun to be able to call any pitch.
“I knew right away when [Johnson] broke the bat it was going to drop in. But at that point, we had to erase that and go after the shutout and the win.”
Buchholz did that, getting Sam Fuld, the next batter, to ground into a double play on the next pitch. Buchholz gave up one more hit in the game, a double by Jennings. But that was all the Rays could do against him on this day.
Saltalamacchia’s no-hitter will have to wait for another day.