Wagner's hitless streak ends

Mets' Wagner's hitless streak ends

NEW YORK -- Once the Mets' beleaguered bullpen had produced four scoreless innings against the Braves on Saturday, Billy Wagner had little to say about the part he played in that row of zeroes, and not all that much to say about his own streak of hitless innings that had reached nine -- 10, if 2007 is included.

Wagner earned his sixth save in six opportunities Sunday, but his streak of hitless innings ended with an opposite-field single to right by pinch-hitter Mike Diaz with one out in the ninth. The one out didn't extend the streak to 9 1/3. It was the 28th and final in a sequence of outs without a hit allowed, but not a part of a hitless inning.

No Mets pitcher ever had retired so many batters at the beginning of a season without allowing a hit. The last big league pitcher to have as many as 28 outs without a hit at the beginning of the season was Rafael Betancourt of the Indians in 2005. His streak was 28, too.

On Sunday morning, before the streak had ended, Wagner chose to praise his colleagues for their work and all but dismissed his nine hitless frames with a "been there, done that." He thought he had. Closers typically are unaware of some of the specifics of their performances.

"You don't keep track of hits you give up, because you know you're gonna give up some, and if you give up a lot, you'll hear about it," Wagner said.

But Wagner had been told of his nine innings without a hit after he had achieved it in 1999, and he accepted it as fact.

It wasn't far-fetched. Opponents batted .135 against Wagner in 1999. They managed all of 35 hits in 74 2/3 innings against him, so hitless innings hardly were uncommon. Yet, he was told that, from late May into the second week of June, he had thrown nine consecutive innings without allowing a hit. And that was something of an accomplishment, even while pitching for the Astros who, to that point, had turned out no-hitters -- the more traditionally recognized kind -- at a steady rate.

One thing about those nine scoreless innings: they numbered 8 1/3.

Wagner had allowed a home run in his final inning May 20 and a single in his first inning June 12. And even though an out followed the home run and an out preceded the single, those outs were in a streak of 27 at-bats against him without a hit, but not part of an innings streak. Instead, they are part of innings that included hits, innings that were not hitless. Therefore, his longest hitless streak before he pitched a clean ninth Saturday was a mere 8 1/3 innings.

"Not that big a deal, anyway," Wagner said on Sunday morning after he had been alerted of the research and recalculation. Not a big deal, even for a franchise that never has produced a one-man, one-game no-hitter. With nearly two seasons left on his contract and no World Series ring on his hand, Wagner has other priorities.

Wagner's two hitless streaks
Date
Opponent
IP
H
R-ER
BB
S0
Result
1999
May 23at Giants1.000-012save
May 25Rockies2.000-005No SS*
May 30at Pirates1.000-002No SS*
June 4at Twins1.100-002save
June 5at Twins1.000-002save
June 9at White Sox1.000-003No SS*
June 11Padres1.000-002save

Totals:7 games8.100-01184 saves
2008
Apr. 2at Marlins1.000-001No SS*
Apr. 10Phillies1.000-012No SS*
Apr. 11Brewers1.000-000save
Apr. 16Nationals1.000-001save
Apr. 17Nationals1.000-001No SS*
Apr. 18at Phillies1.000-000save
Apr. 19at Phillies1.000-001save
Apr. 23at Nats1.000-012No SS*
Apr. 26Braves1.000-001save

Totals:9 games9.000-0285 saves
*SS - save situation

"I'll give up three hits every inning, if that'll get us to the World Series," he said.

Nonetheless, nine hitless innings is an achievement of merit for any pitcher -- closer, setup man or starter. Just the span of days covered -- 25 in Wagner's case -- makes it so. He may have faced a maximum of merely four hitters in any of his 10 appearances -- he walked a batter in two of the 10 -- but those appearances were spaced over 3 1/2 weeks. He maintained hitless stuff for 3 1/2 weeks.

"Some of it's me, some of it's luck and some of it's the hitters -- it's April," Wagner said.

The other streak, though shorter, came later in the season when hitters presumably were better prepared for Wagner's heat. And in terms of dominance, the 8 1/3-innings streak was better. Wagner faced 27 batters in seven appearances, walked one and struck out 18 of the 26 others.

"That's when I was good," he said.

He faced 30 batters during the just-ended streak, walking two and striking out nine. That still is nearly one per inning. And if his rate of strikeouts is down, who cares?

Not Wagner. He has thrown more offspeed pitches in hopes of getting quicker outs. Strikeouts require at least three pitches; a ground ball to the shortstop or a fly ball to the center fielder can be had for one pitch.

He'll take it.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.