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The unwritten rules of bunting to break up a no-hitter

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Domonic Brown broke up a no-hitter with a bunt in the fifth inning, which really cheesed some people off.

Denis Poroy

The Padres don't have a no-hitter in franchise history. You probably knew that, but it's one of those factlets that always surprises someone. The Padres have played 7,313 games as a franchise, and they've yet to throw a no-hitter. On average, there's a no-hitter every 1,548 games, which means the Padres should have had four or five by now. Again, they have zero.

In the 7,313rd game in Padres history, Andrew Cashner took a no-hitter into the fifth inning against the Phillies before Domonic Brown singled. You're reading this because of how Brown singled.


That would be a bunt to break up a no-hitter, which possibly violates unwritten rules. Let us explore these unwritten rules.

The unwritten rule isn't "You can't bunt for a hit if your team is hitless," because that would affect the first inning. You can't tell Dee Gordon not to bunt in his first at-bat. That's ridiculous. There has to be a demarcation line, a point where the game transitions from "normal game" to "waaaaait a second." It's not the first or the second inning. The third is getting closer, but I'll suggest the fourth inning is when the unwritten hall monitors start milling about. The fifth inning, for sure. Cashner didn't want to put a runner on in a 1-0 game, but I'll guess that the next time he faces the Phillies, Brown will get a fastball in or around the tuckus.

Before we move on, allow me to present my credentials in this matter. Ballpark security once had to tell me to stop violating the written rules because I was so mad at someone breaking the unwritten rules.

Almost 14 years ago to the day, Russ Ortiz took a no-hitter into the seventh inning for the Giants. It seems odd now, considering their yearly no-hitter, but the Giants used to have quite the no-hitter-free streak going. The Giants didn't have a no-hitter from September, 1976 through July, 2009, and it was an obsession of mine. Whenever the Giants would get into the fifth inning of a game I wasn't at, I would contemplate getting into my car and driving to the game, just in case.

I didn't need to do that for this game, as I was already there. Leading off the top of the seventh, Brian Hunter -- it doesn't matter which one -- put down a bunt for an infield single. I was crushed. And possibly inebriated. But certainly crushed. That was the one, that was the Giants' chance at a no-hitter, and it was ruined by some limp-batted wheels-monger who couldn't take the thought of being no-hit. Ortiz couldn't make it out of the inning -- he was probably at 484 pitches before the inning started, to be honest -- but I was sure that was going to be a no-hitter.

So I did what any red-blooded, intoxicated baseball fan would have done. I moved a couple sections over before the bottom half of the inning and yelled at Hunter until I lost my voice. I don't know the specifics of what I yelled, but they probably shouldn't have been yelled in public, in front of children, or at all in any situation by anyone. I wasn't forcibly removed from the ballpark, but I was firmly led back to my seat by the arm. That was probably the last time I was ever firmly led back to my seat by the arm. No regrets.

Which is all to say this: I get it. I get the Padres fans booing. I get Cashner muttering things under his breath. The Padres will get a no-hitter soon -- the combination of the ballpark and high-strikeout era makes it a matter of when, not if -- but it might not be Cashner who throws it. If Roger Clemens can get through his career without a no-hitter, you know there's no guarantee for anyone else. It's infuriating to lose a shot at a no-hitter because of a bunt hit, both for fans and the pitcher.

The years have softened me, though. The definition of a hit: When the batter safely reaches first base after hitting a ball into fair territory, excluding a fielder's choice or error. A no-hitter is defined, roughly, as when that doesn't happen. Want a no-hitter? Prevent batters safely reaching first after hitting a ball into fair territory. That goes for balls that hit a foot, and it goes for balls hit 400 feet. If you don't like the bunt hit, pick the ball up and throw the runner out.

It's weird, this idea that a bunt hit is cheap or somehow a lesser variety of hit. If bunting for a hit were so easy, the league average would be .400 and every lineup would be filled with jackrabbits hitting .450. Instead, it's something of a trade-off at best, with a speedy runner forfeiting any chance at an extra-base hit for a slightly better chance at reaching first base, but only if he executes perfectly.

In the opinion of this unwritten court, then, bunting to break up a no-hitter is perfectly fine, especially in a tight, one-run game. If the player's team is down by 10 runs, it's mostly okay, but we reserve the right to call that player a weenie because that really is a weenie move. Baseball doesn't have a clock, and every runner could be the start of something big, et cetera, but you know that's not what the player is thinking. He's probably just being a spiteful weenie. That probably breaks the unwritten rule of "don't be a weenie." It's okay to wing one behind him next time.

There's an addendum to this ruling, though. There's an addendum that covers every unwritten rule we've thought of, and it covers the ones we haven't thought of yet.

~~~~You lose your right to complain about anything when you use a defensive shift~~~~

That's the deal. If you want to gain the extra advantage by stacking fielders on one side of the field, you have to be okay with whatever strategy the opposing team uses to counter. Moving the third baseman to shortstop is an announcement that you're okay with the other team bunting for a single. "Please, take this single. Whatever you do, don't hit an extra-base hit. Take this single. If you don't take this single, you're going to have a harder time getting a single. So take the one we're giving you." Domonic Brown took the single.

You lose your right to complain about anything when you use a defensive shift. That one should probably be written down, maybe under the "No Pepper" signs around the ballpark.

The frustration for Cashner, the Padres, and the Padres fans is palpable, as it should be. But Brown didn't do anything wrong because he decided to play baseball in a one-run game. If anything, the Padres learned a lesson about putting on the shift during a no-hitter. It turns out that saying "take this single" in the middle of a no-hitter is a good way to lose the no-hitter.

Don't worry, though. I filed form 508(e) with the baseball gods on behalf of the Padres, and hopefully it will be reviewed and approved soon. I requested that the Padres get their first cycle in franchise history on a bunt against the shift, preferably a double. It's only fair. Everyone hold a good thought for that one. Everyone hold a good thought.