Column: Manaea cools sizzling Red Sox with no-hitter

If you had Sean Manaea as author of Major League Baseball’s first no-hitter this season, pat yourself on the back while I call you a flat-out liar.

Then again, first no-hitters of the season are sometimes thrown by players you’ve barely or never heard of. In 2015, Chris Heston of the San Francisco Giants threw a no-hitter against the New York Mets on June 9 for that season’s first no-no. In 2012, it was a guy named Philip Humber who delivered the goods in a perfect game on April 21 for the Chicago White Sox against the Seattle Mariners. And in 2009, the year’s only no-hitter was thrown by San Francisco’s Jonathan Sanchez against San Diego.

If you take the win totals of Sanchez, Humber and Heston and combine them, you get a grand total of 68.

But this, by no means, is saying that Manaea is heading to the scrap heap soon after what he accomplished on Saturday night. In 2017, he was 12-10 with 55 walks and 140 strikeouts and a 4.37 earned-run average a year ago. Doing that on a struggling Oakland Athletics team is quite an accomplishment.

Still, the even bigger accomplishment was what Manaea did Saturday night. No no-hitter is easy to throw, but try doing that against a team, the Boston Red Sox, that came into the game 17-2. The .894 winning percentage is the biggest any team has ever had in being no-hit, and what Manaea did beside throwing a no-no was end an eight-game winning streak by the Red Sox. The last time a team got stopped with that big a winning streak by a no-hitter was in 1880 ...  yes, 1880.

Just when it seemed the Red Sox couldn’t be stopped in gaining the best record in baseball, the highest-scoring offense in the league, along came the left-handed Manaea, who kept Red Sox hitters off-balance the entire night. The only fault you could find with Manaea was that he walked a pair of batters. But otherwise, he was awfully friendly with the strike zone, tossing his no-no in 109 pitches.

But, as always, there couldn’t be a no-hitter without consternation. The first of that came in the fifth inning when Sandy Leon lofted a pop fly to short left field. Shortstop Marcus Semien, who has made errors in more varieties than Baskin-Robbins has ice cream flavors, drifted back on what was a tough pop up. He reached up and had the ball in grasp, but dropped it.

You and I probably would have felt empathy for Semien and given Leon the hit. Ahh, but let’s remember exactly where we were – Oakland, California. Home team advantages. Yes, I said it. Far from a routine pop-up, Semien was charged an error, keeping the no-hitter alive.

An inning later, the threat came up again when Andrew Benintendi hit a slow roller along the first-base line. First baseman Matt Olson raced to the ball, scooped it up and looked to tag Benintendi as he was passing by him. But Benintendi avoided the tag and reached first base. That sent Athletics manager Bob Melvin out to the umpires to challenge the call, considering Benintendi went out of the baseline on the foul side of the line to avoid the tag. They checked the replay and found Melvin was right – Benintendi had gone outside the baseline, making him and automatic out and keeping the no-no alive.

Though Benintendi would come up in the ninth and walk, by then Manaea was one out away from his date with destiny. The next hitter, Hanley Ramirez, hit a grounder to Semien, who fielded it cleanly, then tossed softly to second baseman Jed Lowrie to finish out the A’s first no-hitter since Dallas Braden’s Mother’s Day perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. It also marked the first time the Red Sox had been no-hit since Seattle’s Chris Bosio did the honor in 1993 with then-Mariners shortstop Omar Vizquel grabbing a high chopper over the middle barehanded and firing to first base for the final out.

And by throwing his no-hitter, Manaea became the first Indiana native (he’s from Valparaiso) to do so since Don Larsen did it during Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, his perfect game for the New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers arguably the most famous no-hitter ever thrown.

It slowed down the Red Sox considerably and on Sunday, the Athletics won again, beating Boston, 4-1, winning two games and doubling their loss total for the season.

This, if you look at his record, is no fluke apparently. Sure, Manaea’s record reads 3-2, but he has a gaudy 1.23 ERA with just six walks and 30 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings so far. Traded to Oakland by Kansas City in 2015 to acquire veteran utility man Ben Zobrist for its run to the World Series, Manaea has found a home with the A’s. It’ll be of interest to see how far Manaea takes his success this season.

If Saturday night is any indication, the 26-year-old is on his way.

The Red Sox might attest to it.

Mark Blumenthal is a writer for the Palatka Daily News. You can reach him at mblumenthal@palatkadailynews.com or on Twitter @diabolicalmarky.

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