LOS ANGELES (AP) — After Craig Kimbrel struck out pinch-hitter Will Smith to end the game, the Chicago Cubs’ closer was curious why catcher Willson Contreras celebrated with a bigger-than-usual fist pump.
Fellow reliever Ryan Tepera then ran onto the field at Dodger Stadium and whispered in Kimbrel’s ear: “You have no idea what happened.”
The Cubs’ fearsome bullpen had just teamed up with starter Zach Davies for the first combined no-hitter in franchise history — and none of the three relievers who followed Davies onto the mound had any idea they were pitching their way into history until after they finished.
The four Cubs combined for the seventh no-hitter in the majors this year, matching the most in a season since 1900, as Chicago blanked the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-0 Thursday night. The Dodgers drew eight walks, getting at least one from each opposing pitcher, but managed no other baserunners.
The tension was palpable in the Cubs’ dugout, where Davies watched with trepidation after reluctantly agreeing with manager David Ross’ decision to pull him for a pinch-hitter after 94 pitches. Davies (5-4) issued five walks while scrapping through six spotless innings against the defending World Series champions.
“I think every pitcher wants to continue in the game, regardless of his pitch count, but it worked,” Davies said. “Chafe, Tep and Craig shut the door. A part of history. I’m excited for the guys that were on the field. I can’t complain at all.”
But incredibly, the relievers remained blissfully oblivious to the stakes as Tepera, Andrew Chafin and Kimbrel went to the mound and preserved a zero they couldn’t see, thanks to the position of the Dodger Stadium bullpen.
“The whole bullpen had no idea,” said Chafin, who pitched the eighth. “It was completely oblivious. But in our defense, in that bullpen, from our perspective on the field, all we can see is batting averages and the count, stuff like that. We can’t see the scoreboard with the hits.”
Tepera and Chafin each walked a batter during their inning on the mound, but Los Angeles couldn’t capitalize.
Kimbrel then walked Chris Taylor leading off the ninth, but the ferocious closer struck out Cody Bellinger, Albert Pujols and Smith to finish the Cubs’ 17th no-hitter since 1880.
“I think they all needed to get a walk in, just to make my heart rate go up a little bit,” Ross said. “You get to the ninth, I don’t know I’ve been as nervous in a long time with a 4-0 lead and Craig Kimbrel on the mound as I was tonight.”
Javier Báez homered in the first inning and Contreras added a two-run shot in the sixth for the Cubs, who happily celebrated the franchise’s first no-hitter since last Sept. 13, when Alec Mills blanked Milwaukee.
Contreras was the constant in the combined no-no, and all four pitchers praised his work behind the plate.
“From catching this team since 2016, I’ve been catching a lot of shutout games, but nothing close to a no-hitter,” said Contreras, who was visibly emotional afterward. “Tonight was one of those nights that are super special in my life, one that will be hard to forget.
“I didn’t realize that we had a no-hitter going on until the sixth, and from the seventh on, my heart would just race and race. I was trying to slow the game down, to put the right finger down, to call the right pitch.”
The seventh no-hitter of this highly unusual season — the most in baseball history before July 1 — was the first since May 19. The Boston Red Sox also took a bid for a combined no-hitter into the eighth inning earlier Thursday, but lost the no-no and the game at Tampa Bay.
“This is an awesome moment,” Davies said. “The World Series, I think something like that probably tops it. But even though it wasn’t solo and it was a combined effort, being a part of history is something special.”
With this no-hitter — the 312th in baseball history — 2021 matches 1990, 1991, 2012 and 2015 for the most in a single MLB season since 1900. That’s one shy of the record eight in 1884, the first season overhand pitching was allowed.
The other no-hitters this year were thrown by San Diego’s Joe Musgrove (April 9), Carlos Rodón of the Chicago White Sox (April 14), Baltimore’s John Means (May 5), Cincinnati’s Wade Miley (May 7), Detroit’s Spencer Turnbull (May 18) and the New York Yankees’ Corey Kluber (May 19).
In addition, Arizona’s Madison Bumgarner pitched a seven-inning hitless game in a doubleheader on April 25 that is not recognized as a no-hitter by Major League Baseball.
The Cubs actually did something that’s been much harder than throwing a no-hitter over the past two seasons: They beat Walker Buehler, who hadn’t lost in 23 straight regular-season starts.
Buehler (7-1) took his first loss since Sept. 21, 2019, for the Dodgers despite throwing six innings of five-hit ball. Buehler made it through six innings for the 17th straight start, but lost his streak of 30 straight games overall without a defeat.
“Two really bad pitches to two really good hitters, and they took advantage of them,” Buehler said. “Just can’t leave fastballs in the middle like that.”
The Dodgers hadn’t been no-hit since Aug. 30, 2015, when they were blanked in Chavez Ravine by the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta — who is scheduled to pitch for Chicago on Friday night. It was the Dodgers’ 20th no-hit loss, the most in major league history.
“When something like this happens, you want it to sting a little bit,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It stings me.”
Davies bounced back sharply after yielding a career-high eight runs in his last start against Miami. Those eight runs matched the number he had allowed in his previous six starts combined, and he regained his excellent form at Dodger Stadium.
Davies walked two batters in the first before getting Pujols to ground out. He walked the leadoff batter in the third and fourth, but avoided any other trouble. The fifth inning was his first 1-2-3 frame.
The Dodgers probably got closest to a hit in the first inning when Taylor’s line drive to center was caught by Rafael Ortega.
Davies has never thrown a complete game in his seven-year major league career, which began with five seasons in Milwaukee before a stop in San Diego last year.
Tepera, Chicago’s busiest reliever, walked Gavin Lux with two outs in the seventh, but Austin Barnes lined out to second.
Chafin walked Mookie Betts with one out, but Max Muncy hit a grounder right to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who stepped on the bag and threw to second for an easy double play.
The previous combined no-hitter in the majors was Aug. 3, 2019, when Aaron Sanchez and three Houston relievers blanked Seattle 9-0.
Buehler took a no-hitter into the eighth inning last Saturday in Arizona, where he tied the Dodgers record for consecutive regular-season starts without a loss. He made it through six innings Thursday for the 15th time this season, but he still has never beaten the Cubs.
Báez followed his 17th homer by cupping his hand to his ear as he returned to the Chicago dugout, getting a loud chorus of jeers along with cheers from the Cubs’ sizable fan contingent in Los Angeles. Buehler recovered and stayed out of trouble until the sixth, when Contreras took him deep.
Chicago added another run in the seventh when Jason Heyward singled and scored on a single by pinch-hitter Jake Marisnick, who was hitting for Davies.