PHILADELPHIA – Josh Beckett started talking about throwing a no-hitter in the fourth inning, ignoring traditional superstitions and making his catcher nervous in the process.
The big, folksy Texan had stuff that was too dominant to worry about a jinx.
Beckett pitched the first no-hitter of his stellar career and the first in the majors this season, leading the Los Angeles Dodgers over the Philadelphia Phillies 6-0 on Sunday.
A year ago, Beckett was nearly derailed by a nerve condition that left him unable to feel his fingertips. On this day, he was downright nasty.
“I was joking about it because I was waiting for them to get a hit,” Beckett said. “You don’t think at this point of your career that you’re going to do that. I just don’t feel that my stuff is good enough to do that. I’m probably as hard on myself as anybody.”
Beckett stuck out six, walked three and didn’t come close to allowing a hit against a lineup that included two former NL MVPs and four former All-Stars. Beckett has credentials, too: A three-time All-Star, he also was a World Series MVP.
The 34-year-old right-hander threw 128 pitches. He fanned five-time All-Star Chase Utley on a called strike three to end the game.
“It’s very special. It takes really good defense behind you, a little luck sprinkled in and making pitches when you need to make pitches,” Beckett said. “That’s a good-hitting team you don’t take lightly.”
Beckett mixed a sharp fastball with a slow, deceptive curve that kept hitters off-balance while retiring 23 straight batters at one stretch. He pitched the Dodgers’ first no-hitter since Hideo Nomo beat Colorado at Coors Field in 1996, and the 21st in franchise history. Sandy Koufax threw four.
“I knew he had something special going early,” catcher Drew Butera said. “I was a nervous wreck from the fourth inning on when he said he had never taken one this far. He’s a guy who is going to keep it loose and he didn’t want anybody to be thinking about it.”
Beckett pitched the first no-hitter in the majors since Miami’s Henderson Alvarez did it against Detroit on the final day of the 2013 season.
Beckett also became the first visiting pitcher to throw a no-hitter in Philadelphia since Montreal’s Bill Stoneman stopped the Phillies on April 17, 1969, at Connie Mack Stadium.
All of the defensive plays behind Beckett were routine. Domonic Brown had the hardest out, a liner that left fielder Carl Crawford ran down near the warning track in the fifth.
Beckett sat at the end of the bench, next to a security guard, as the Dodgers batted in the ninth inning, before taking the mound in his bid for history.
“It was awesome. You think about it pretty much from the fourth on. I’m not one of those guys that carried a lot of no-hitters deep into games,” he said.
Beckett’s longest previous bid was 6⅔ innings before allowing a single to Detroit’s Curtis Granderson on June 3, 2009.
Beckett retired pinch-hitter Tony Gwynn Jr. on a popup to shortstop to start the ninth. Speedy Ben Revere followed with a grounder that first baseman Adrian Gonzalez fielded, and he flipped to Beckett covering the bag for the second out.
“It was the most excited I’ve ever been playing defense,” Gonzalez said.
Jimmy Rollins was up next, and Beckett walked him on a full-count pitch. That brought up Utley, and when the count when to 3-2, Butera went to the mound to talk to Beckett.
Beckett then threw a kph 151 fastball that Utley looked at, and plate umpire Brian Knight called strike three to end it.
“I knew he wasn’t expecting me to throw a fastball down the middle,” Beckett said.
A pitch before striking out, Utley took a few steps toward first base when he thought a 3-1 delivery was ball four. Instead, it was strike two.
Utley left the clubhouse before reporters arrived.
“He had real good stuff right down to the final batter,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. “Our best hitter not swinging at the last two strikes is an indicator right there.”
Beckett walked off the mound, pumped his fist and was mobbed by teammates. He got a standing ovation from the crowd of 36,141 at Citizens Bank Park on his way to the dugout.
“That was a lot of fun,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s been throwing well all year and his breaking ball and change keep getting better.”
Last July, Beckett had a rib removed in thoracic outlet syndrome surgery to fix a condition that was affecting his right arm. He went 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA in eight games in 2013.
Beckett (3-1) started this season on the disabled list with a thumb injury, raising more doubts about how effective he would be for a team with postseason expectations.
“I just wanted to help the team,” he said. “You always want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Beckett was the MVP of the 2003 World Series for the Marlins, capping off their championship run by pitching a five-hit shutout in the clinching Game 6 at Yankee Stadium.
Roy Halladay had the only other no-hitter at cozy Citizens Bank Park, doing it for the Phillies in a 4-0 playoff win over Cincinnati on Oct. 6, 2010.
In 1988, Pascual Perez of the Expos held the host Phillies hitless for five innings at Veterans Stadium before the game was stopped because of rain. A Major League Baseball committee later ruled that no-hitters of less than nine innings didn’t officially count.
Beckett walked Utley in the first and Marlon Byrd in the second before retiring 23 straight batters.
Diamondbacks 2, Mets 1 (1st)
Mets 4, Diamondbacks 2 (2nd)
In New York, Daisuke Matsuzaka threw six solid innings and helped the offense-starved Mets with an RBI single in the second game of a double-header.
“I’m pretty confident in my hitting so I just wanted to get a hit and get a run in,” the .185 career hitter coming in said through a translator. “I wanted to pitch as deep into the game as I could and today I was able — that was the least I could’ve done.”
The 33-year-old Matsuzaka made 123 starts and one relief appearance in seven big league seasons before being called up by the Mets in mid-April.
The longest of his 14 relief outings this season was 3⅔ innings and 56 pitches. But he threw 98 pitches and allowed only three hits.
In the opener, Arizona turned a season-high five double plays. They used an error by second baseman Daniel Murphy in the ninth to win.
Braves 7, Rockies 0
In Atlanta, Evan Gattis homered twice to support Julio Teheran’s six scoreless innings.
Brewers 7, Marlins 1
In Miami, Jimmy Nelson pitched 5⅔ scoreless innings in his season debut.
Nationals 5, Pirates 2
In Pittsburgh, Ian Desmond hit a pair of RBI singles as Washington ended a four-game losing streak.
Padres 4, Cubs 3
In San Diego, Ian Kennedy pitched six strong innings as the Padres defeated Chicago.
Cardinals 4, Reds 0
In Cincinnati, Adam Wainwright became the National League’s first eight-game winner by dominating the Reds.
Giants 8, Twins 1
In San Francisco, Michael Morse doubled three times and drove in four runs and Madison Bumgarner remained unbeaten in May.
Yankees 7, White Sox 1
In Chicago, Derek Jeter had four hits and Masahiro Tanaka rebounded from his first MLB loss.
Tanaka pitched into the seventh, striking out six and walking two while allowing a run.
Ichiro Suzuki was 1-for-4 for New York.
Astros 4, Mariners 1
In Seattle, Dallas Keuchel pitched a four-hitter for his second complete game in his last three starts.
Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma allowed four runs and struck out six over seven innings in his first loss of the season.
Rays 8, Red Sox 5
In St. Petersburg, Florida, the World Series champion Red Sox lost their 10th straight game, falling into their longest slump in 20 years.
Rangers 12, Tigers 4
In Detroit, Alex Rios tripled and drove in three runs, and the Rangers rolled to another Texas-sized rout of the Tigers.
Blue Jays 3, Athletics 1
In Toronto, Edwin Encarnacion homered and J.A. Happ won his third straight start.
Orioles 4, Indians 2
In Baltimore, Manny Machado and Nelson Cruz homered and Steve Pearce had three hits.
Angels 4, Royals 3
In Anaheim, Chris Iannetta hit a tiebreaking home run in the eighth inning.