CINCINNATI — On the morning after at 8 a.m., just hours after pitching his second no-hitter, Homer Bailey was bouncing along a trail on his 20-year-old gelding horse, Billy.
“Billy can still do it and he’s pretty special, genetically special. He’s tough. He’s very tough.”
Some baseball observers might think the 27-year-old right hander was describing himself.
The visit with his two horses, Billy and 9-year-old Dot, came after short sleep. When he arrived home after facing 28 San Francisco Giants Tuesday night, a perfect game stifled by a 3-and-2 walk, he called his father back in La Grange, Tex.
“How’d you do, son? I missed the game. I’ll watch it later because I taped it,” said his dad. Before Bailey could sputter and stutter, his dad said, “I’m kidding, I saw it.”
Between the game, the phone call to his father and the horseback riding, Bailey went through close to 200 texts, “And I answered them all.”
Among the texts were some from former teammates Aaron Harang and Laynce Nix and Kent Mercker, “Those were pretty cool,” plus Orel Hershiser and Bailey’s childhood hero, Roger Clemens.
In fact, Bailey always wore uniform number 21 or 22, in honor of Clemens, before he reached Cincinnati. When he arrived here, 21 wasn’t available so they gave him 34, in honor of another Texas pitcher, Nolan Ryan.
“Clemens was of my era, being from the same state, and he’d won a few Cy Young Awards, all that good stuff,” said Bailey.
Clemens told Bailey that Tuesday’s game was so perfect — well, almost perfect — that he was going to use it to show young pitchers in the Houston Astros suystem and Bailey said, “Hey, go ahead. They aren’t in our division any more, teach them what you can.”
Now that Bailey has two in 10 months, how about doing something most baseball people say will never be done: the back-to-back no-hitter thrown in 1938 by Cincinnati pitcher Johnny Vander Meer.
“It’s only happened once,” said Bailey. “There aren’t too many things in the game about which you can say it only happened once, right? So, there is no way I can go into my next start and keep that out of my mind. I imagine the first guy I face will get a hit and we’ll be done with the whole thing.”
Vander Meer was once quoted as saying, “It will take somebody who throws hard and can get 10 or 12 strikeouts. I wouldn’t mind seeing somebody do it because it has been a great record for me.”
Said Bailey, “Man, I think anybody who gets the ball in their hand has as good a chance as anybody to throw a no-hitter. But there are some records that will never be broken and that’s probably one. If I were to bet on it, which I wouldn’t, I’d say, ‘C’mon, who can really say that?’”
And where does it stand in Bailey’s pantheon. He shrugges and said he couldn’t answer that question.
“We got a win out of it,” he said. “That’s what meant the most, after a long road trip on which we didn’t do so well on (2-6), so maybe it’s a spark. At the end of the day, we’re trying to win games and get back on top of the division.”
Bailey realizes that a pitcher has to be at his best and that isn’t always enough. One word always accompanies a no-hitter: luck.
“The only way events like this happen is a combination of things,” he said. “Whether it is one or two (umpire) calls or defensive players (first baseman Joey Votto, center fielder Shin-Soo Choo and shortstop Zack Cozart made hit-saving plays. It’s a collection of things — me having a great game, maybe the other team is a tick off with their swings, and the biggest factor in my mind. Luck. Clear and simple. Luck. It’s luck once it leaves my hand.”
Nearly lost in the commotion is the face that Bailey had a hit — one more hit than the entire San Francisco lineup.
“Hey, has that ever happened?” Bailey asked gleefully? Sorry, Homer. When Rick Wise of the Philadelphia Phillies pitched a no-hitter against the Reds in 1971 he not only had two hits, but both hits were home runs.
Fellow pitcher Bronson Arroyo overheard the conversation and said, “Before the game Homer told me he was going to hit a home run off (San Francisco starter) Tim Linceum and he didn’t, so he isn’t worth a damn.”
Bailey didn’t get the ball he hit for a single, but he got the last ball used in the game, a 98 miles an hour fastball and Gregor Blanco grounded to third.
“They gave me 10 game-used balls from my no-hitter last year in Pittsburgh and they are trying to round up some of the game-used balls from this one,” he said. I’d like to have them.”
As the game progressed, the velocity on Bailey’s fastball rose like the temperatures in mid-morning Las Vegas. And he threw almost nothing but fastballs in the ninth inning.
“Adrenaline,” he said. “
Bailey was asked how many no-hitters he threw at La Grange High School, where he was 41-4 with a 0.98 earned run average.
“Less than I have in the big leagues,” he said. “I think I threw one. Maybe. No more than one, if that.”
And now he has a chance to match the unmatchable, Vander Meer’s back-to-back no-hitters.
Said manager Dusty Baker, “Well, Homer is the only guy right now who has the chance.”