Joe Musgrove allowed only one base runner, on a hit-by-pitch. San Diego had been the last team without a no-hitter.
Maybe it was fate, Joe Musgrove guessed late Friday night. How else to explain his sudden status as the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the history of his hometown team? Musgrove was drafted by Toronto, won a World Series with Houston and made an opening-day start for Pittsburgh. But his inner compass always pointed home.
“Just a San Diego kid that made it to the big leagues,” Musgrove said on Zoom call from Arlington, Texas, after his 3-0 masterpiece against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field. “So it feels even better to be able to do it in a Padres uniform — and, selfishly, be able to do it for my city and have everyone know that the kid from Grossmont High threw the first no-hitter.”
It happened at last in the Padres’ 8,206th game, an even longer wait than the Mets endured before their first no-hitter in 2012, by Johan Santana in Game No. 8,020. Yet the futility of the Mets, the team that brought Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Dwight Gooden to the majors, was harder to grasp. For the Padres, it seemed more fitting.
A National League expansion franchise in 1969, the Padres began with losing seasons in 12 of their first 13 years. Three starters have won the Cy Young Award — Randy Jones in 1976, Gaylord Perry in 1972 and Jake Peavy in 2007 — but nobody has stayed long enough to earn more than 100 victories for the team.
Statistically, Kevin Brown had the best season ever by a Padres pitcher, in 1998. But Brown was only passing through; he threw a no-hitter the year before, for the Marlins, and was a Dodger by 1999.
Musgrove looked up to Peavy and chose his old number, 44, when he joined the Padres in a trade from Pittsburgh in January. But while Peavy left his mark in San Diego, he won championships with other teams. The Padres are still waiting for their first.
Musgrove was acquired to help make it happen. The Padres had already traded for Yu Darvish and Blake Snell before adding Musgrove, overhauling their rotation to support an offense built around third baseman Manny Machado and shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who both are signed to contracts worth at least $300 million.
The final out of the no-hitter was a bouncer to shortstop by Isiah Kiner-Falefa, but Ha-Seong Kim, not Tatis, was there to handle it. Tatis, 22, crumpled to the dirt in pain after a swing in the fifth game of this season, and is out indefinitely with a slight labrum tear in his shoulder.
The injury dampened the excitement around the Padres, but Musgrove restored it with 112 dazzling pitches that included zero fastballs across the last three innings. Like his former Houston teammate, Lance McCullers Jr., throwing 24 consecutive curveballs to close out the Yankees in the 2017 playoffs, Musgrove shelved the most common pitch and kept pumping the ones that worked.
“We were just going to empty the tank out with my best stuff,” he said, “and the slider was the go-to weapon.”
The Padres’ catcher, Victor Caratini, also caught the majors’ last no-hitter by the Chicago Cubs’ Alec Mills last September. It was Mills’s first career complete game, as this was for Musgrove, in his 85th career start. It is so rare now for pitchers to throw nine innings that four of the last seven starters to throw a no-hitter had never before pitched a complete game.
Working nine innings had always been a goal, Musgrove said, reinforced by his habit of lining up nine pieces of gum on a towel in the dugout for each start. He chews a piece before each inning, he said, but had never finished all nine. He also leaves a pile of empty water bottles in the dugout to track his hydration; on Friday, he gulped down 11 or 12 while maintaining another ritual.
“That was the one thing I didn’t want to break the superstition of,” he said. “I didn’t want to have to use the bathroom in the middle of a start.”
Musgrove pitched like a man in a hurry. He said he had never thrown a no-hitter at any level, not even Little League, and in the early innings Friday, he doubted he would do so this time. This was his second start of the season, and he had not worked into the eighth since 2019.
“I figured to get six, seven, eight, nine innings in, I was going to be way too high in the pitch count,” he said. “I was kind of at peace with the idea that I would go six, seven shutout innings hitless and then hand it over to the pen and see if they could finish it off.”
After six innings or so, when he realized his pitch count was lower than he’d thought, Musgrove thought he’d have a chance. Manager Jayce Tingler kept the bullpen busy in case of a hit, but said he would not have pulled Musgrove before then.
“He was in control,” Tingler said. “After the seventh inning, that’s when we kind of put all the chips in. For Joe, for the team, for the organization, for the city that hadn’t had a no-hitter before, at that point you throw everything out the window and you roll with it and see where it lays out.”
The first Padres manager, Preston Gomez, lifted a pitcher after eight no-hit innings in 1970. But starter Clay Kirby was behind in the game, 1-0, and Gomez pinch-hit for him to try to get a run. A reliever, Jack Baldschun, lost the bid in the ninth.
Three other Padres starters have been foiled in the ninth inning: Steve Arlin in 1972, Andy Ashby in 1997 and Chris Young — now the general manager of the Rangers — in 2006. Five years later, a combined no-hitter fell short in the ninth.
This time, though, Musgrove got it done, with 10 strikeouts and no walks. He hit Joey Gallo in the knee with a cutter in the fourth inning, but otherwise allowed no base runners. Musgrove did not lament the lone mistake that cost him a perfect game; he actually called it a lucky break, because for all he knew, Gallo might have gotten a hit.
The outcome was perfect, just the way it was supposed to be, for a San Diego kid in dreamland.
“A no-hitter, regardless of where you’re playing, is really special,” Musgrove said. “But it almost seems like this was meant to be.”