Before Wednesday night, before Michael Lorenzen took the mound at Citizens Bank Park and turned toward history, the Washington Nationals had gone 18 seasons, four months and eight days without being no-hit. They had switched stadiums, won a World Series and watched a journeyman become a cult hero with a children’s song about a family of sharks but had never been on the wrong end of a pitcher’s special night, never had to slouch at their lockers and talk about when they noticed the zero in their hit column. They had never been those guys.
But then it was Lorenzen, a right-hander for the Philadelphia Phillies, who finally did it, stacking one out on another as if he could not be bothered by history. The previous time the franchise now known as the Nationals was no-hit was 1999, when the New York Yankees’ David Cone threw a perfect game against the Montreal Expos. Until Lorenzen finished a 7-0 gem, capped by Dominic Smith’s flyout to center, Washington had the longest streak in MLB of registering at least one hit.
“Sometimes it’s meant to be,” said Nationals Manager Dave Martinez, whose team had not been shut out since April 19. “And today was meant to be for him.”
“It’s unbelievable, to be honest,” said Lorenzen, who held up his baby daughter, June, during a postgame celebration on the field. “I always dreamed about throwing a no-hitter and having the opportunity. Skip gave me the opportunity to go 120-plus pitches and, man, it was incredible. … I’m just blown away.”
Six-foot-three, skinny and with shoulder-length hair, the 31-year-old Lorenzen is new to Philadelphia. He is from Southern California, Orange County specifically. He wears white Vans cleats as a tribute to his home, though he will need new ones now after the Hall of Fame asked for the ones on his feet Wednesday night. He came over from the Detroit Tigers at last week’s trade deadline, the hope around here that he will help the Phillies’ chase for a second straight pennant. And this was his first start in front of their fans, who will never forget what they saw on a random night in August, in what was supposed to be just another game.
He kept the Nationals — CJ Abrams, Lane Thomas, Joey Meneses, Smith, Keibert Ruiz, Jake Alu, Ildemaro Vargas, Blake Rutherford and Alex Call — guessing with a steady mix of four-seam fastballs, change-ups, sliders and sinkers. Only Thomas and Ruiz had faced him before. Alu and Rutherford are rookies, with Rutherford now 0 for 14 to start his career. Fifteen of the Nationals’ 27 outs were in the air. Just five came via strikeout.
Lorenzen threw 24 pitches in the first inning, his command shaky, and needed 100 to finish seven. That was partly because he walked four — putting on Meneses and Ruiz twice each — and threw 76 strikes to 48 balls. By the seventh, the crowd erupted with every out. Then with two down and two strikes to Vargas, the fans stood and screamed, somehow growing louder when Vargas punched a grounder to second baseman Rodolfo Castro.
Then even after the bullpen stirred in the bottom half, Lorenzen jogged back out for the eighth to a booming cheer from the crowd of 30,406.
“I didn’t even really notice what was going on until about the sixth,” Thomas said. “That’s when you start to maybe overcompensate a little bit and put some stuff in play you normally wouldn’t swing at.”
From there, it was a countdown for Lorenzen and his teammates. All the Nationals could do was try to stop the count. The Phillies had a sizable lead after whacking three homers off left-handed starter MacKenzie Gore. Smith, the Nationals’ first baseman, had flied out to the warning track in the fourth, lifting a ball 392 feet before it fluttered into Johan Rojas’s glove. In the eighth, with five outs left for Lorenzen, Call hit a liner to center that Rojas caught with a few shuffles to his right.
And then there were four more to go.
“Everybody’s trying to get a hit. We’re trying to talk about it, we’re trying to jinx him, we’re trying to do everything we can to disrupt his rhythm that he had tonight,” Smith said. “Everybody knew what he was doing and how effective he was, and we were trying to mix it up, swing early, take a couple pitches, work the counts. He was able to combat that.”
Like a metronome, like a man on his very own planet, Lorenzen ended each inning with a slow walk back to the dugout, his eyes trained on the ground. Thomas, Meneses and Smith, the meat of Washington’s order, were due up in the ninth. Almost every fan in the building ditched their seat.
Thomas started the inning by bouncing out to third baseman Alec Bohm, who stepped into a throw that beat Thomas by a few steps. When Meneses dug in, the crowd booed, a sign of respect after he homered twice in the Nationals’ win Tuesday night. But when Meneses stuck out looking, when Lorenzen dotted a fastball on the low and outside corner, when he perhaps got a generous call from home plate umpire Brennan Miller, Meneses heard a much different sound.
Maybe the neighborhood by the stadium heard it, too. Maybe it echoed all the way to downtown in the distance. Lorenzen was on the edge of an all-time first impression. To hear each pitch call over the noise, he turned the volume on his PitchCom earpiece all the way up, never once shaking off catcher J.T. Realmuto. And on his 124th pitch of the night, Smith flied out to center, Rojas settled under the ball, then Lorenzen leaped in front of the mound, his teammates pouring from the dugout to mob him in the middle of the delirium.
The game lasted 2 hours, 9 minutes. That’s how long it takes for a streak to break.