It was the middle of the seventh inning and Bauer was nine outs away from throwing his first career no-hitter in impressive and expressive fashion at Coors Field, a hell of a game for pitchers, and in his first start since winning the National League Cy Young, signing with the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers, and receiving a record contract.
Bauer’s first pitch Friday in the bottom of the seventh, at 90 mph, went into left field, where Trevor Story singled. His third pitch, a 75 mph curve, entered the Colorado Rockies’ bullpen in right-center field. His eleventh. The throw, 84 mph, went over the scoreboard in right field.
Bauer went from untouchable to unrecognizable in an instant, reminiscent of the quirks of a baseball field more than 5,000 feet above sea level.
On Thursday, Cody Bellinger’s two-run homer was ruled a one-run homer after Justin Turner passed him on base. On Friday, a fluffy gray cat walked past the third base dugout and nestled into center field for a break. And on both nights, the mighty Dodgers banged out 31 hits, none of which resulted in a home run. It’s a strange thing.
Weird? We don’t rely solely on home runs, Turner said after the 11-6 win. How many times have we heard that in the past?
Not much can be deduced from that 1.2 percent preseason rate, but the first two games of 2021 – a win and a loss – have reinforced two clear points about a Dodgers team that could threaten to break the single-season win record.
1. The attack may be one of the largest in history. Corey Seager (5-of-8) remained in the game throughout the 2020 regular season, the ensuing playoffs, spring training that stretched into the new year and the games that followed. But Mookie Betts, Max Muncy and Will Smith are already in sync, Bellinger seems comfortable in a slightly open position, and 23-year-old second baseman Gavin Lux, who has largely simplified his swing by omitting the extra arm movements in his lineup, seems ready to break through.
2. Adding Bauer to that rotation is unfair.
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In the first six innings of his 2021 debut, Bauer allowed just one base runner, recorded nine strikeouts and appeared to be on his way to joining Hideo Nomo as the only pitchers to throw a no-hitter at Coors Field. He wielded his slider and cutter, two pitches that accounted for 12 of his 15 strikeouts and misses, and watched the Rockies hitters as they came through.
It was the third time Bauer failed to finish in seventh.
I don’t care, he said. If it happens, it happens. It’s not something that is controlled by the pitcher. If you don’t hit 27 people, balls are put into play and it’s a windfall if they hit people or if the defense makes a good move.
There were a lot of good defensive plays behind me tonight. I could have easily thrown a punch in the seventh round. I look at it as luck and try to focus on the things I can control, which are my physical condition, my mental condition, the things that come out of my hand, my decisions on the mound and where the ball lands at home plate. Those are really the only five things I can check.
Most of the questions surrounding the Dodgers’ surprising mid-season hiring of Bauer were about the social media story and his overall reputation, but there were also questions about his pitching.
Prior to his dominant season in Cincinnati with the Reds – at least partially influenced by a regionalized schedule in which he consistently faced weaker lineups – Bauer had a 3.99 ERA with an average of 181 innings from 2014-2019. He was a solid starter with average numbers, but not necessarily the anchor of the rotation that would cost $85 million over two years.
Bauer refuted that notion in spring training, pointing to the injuries he suffered in 2019 and saying his numbers were similar to Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg when he changed his approach for the second half of the 2017 season. (For the record: Bauer’s numbers are very similar to Strasburg’s in this section, although Bauer has accumulated many more innings, but Cole is significantly better).
If you think about it, Bauer said in early March that I was pretty elitist.
His first six innings of 2021 seem to confirm this.
Watching him collapse in the seventh inning – perhaps a side effect of the fact that Bauer spent most of the previous half inning running the bases in Colorado’s thin air – didn’t help much.
It was the first time I could see him in a regular season game, and it was really fun, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. He had everything under control.
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