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First Person: Covering a no-hitter

First Person: Covering a no-hitter

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CHICAGO -- Sandy Koufax once said he started every game trying to throw a perfect game.

If he walked one batter, his goal was to throw a no-hitter, and if he gave up a hit, he aimed for a shutout. And so on.

Koufax was on to something, and considering he threw four no-hitters, including one perfect game, he knew what he was talking about. Nolan Ryan, who also was somewhat of an expert on the subject, said he really never thought about a no-hitter until it got into the eighth inning because he knew how hard it was finish one off.

Problem is, Ryan never covered Nolan Ryan as a baseball writer or sat in the stands as a fan for one of Nolan Ryan's starts. I did for five years.

I completely agree with Koufax, and I did so long before I started covering Ryan for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. If the pitcher retires the leadoff batter in the first inning, he has a no-hitter going. It's game on, and the watch begins.

That's why it was so much fun to once again witness history as Mark Buehrle threw the 16th no-hitter in Chicago White Sox history against the Rangers on Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field. As 25,390 fans seem to agree, there is nothing like the tangible growing tension, suspense and excitement that comes with watching a pitcher -- inning by inning -- make his bid for glory.

It doesn't happen very often, but often enough to tantalize you -- maybe not from the first inning, but certainly by the start of the fourth, when certain members up in the press box have been known to start up a no-hitter pool.

Once a pitcher is through five, the wire services start notifying news outlets across the country and around the world that a no-hitter is in progress, as they did on Wednesday night for both Buehrle and John Maine of the New York Mets.

By this time, the crowd is completely aware of it and so are teammates, who stop talking to the pitcher, and so are the home broadcasters, who don't mention the phrase "no-hitter" on the air for fear of jinxing the pitcher.

The first time I ever heard a potential no-hitter being broadcast on the air was 40 years ago. I was listening to the Hawaii Islanders and Al Michaels, their yet-to-be-nationally-known broadcaster said, "We go into the ninth and Vern Geishert has something special going on here at Honolulu Stadium."

Eventually the final three innings come and that one last turn through the batting order. On Wednesday night you ticked them off one by one ... there goes Ian Kinsler, he got Michael Young, there goes Mark Teixeira.

As each one of the Rangers' best hitters went down, the realization grew greater that Buehrle was going to get there. He knew it, his teammates knew it, so did everybody else in U.S. Cellular Field.

Mark Buehrle, No-hitter

This was the fourth no-hitter I've covered, the first since Kenny Rogers' perfect game in 1994, and the fifth Major League no-hitter I've witnessed at a Major League ballpark. All you need to know about how I feel about them is that I was a Giants fans at the University of San Francisco, but I was standing and applauding in the seventh inning that cold night at Candlestick Park when the Dodgers' Jerry Reuss got through six innings without giving up a hit.

I was still standing when Reuss finished off the final three innings and so were almost all of 20,285 at Candlestick that night. Even a Dodger can get a "standing O" in San Francisco if he throws a no-hitter.

Ryan could get a standing ovation everywhere, and there was absolutely no doubt that most people showed up at the ballpark on nights that he pitched either hoping or expecting a no-hitter.

Twice he did not disappoint while he was with the Rangers -- on June 11, 1990, in Oakland and May 1, 1991, at Arlington Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays.

I was there for both and still remember telling my old USF buddies hours before the game in Oakland that I would meet them afterward for a beer.

"Unless Ryan throws a no-hitter," I told them. "Then I won't be able to make it."

You always had to make contingencies when Ryan pitched. Some writers did go for a beer after Ryan threw No. 7 against the Blue Jays, and my buddy Jim Reeves said, "Let's just stop and think a minute about what we just saw."

I know what we saw.

A no-hitter. Baseball history. You live for it every time you go to a ballpark.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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