By Jim Caple
Why, in the name of Randy Johnson, would anyone leave a no-hitter early?
This is not a rhetorical question. It’s the question I asked myself while riding my bike frantically to catch the end of Philip Humber’s perfect game over the Mariners in April—and seeing fans leaving Safeco in the ninth inning. And it’s the question I posed to fans repeatedly while watching them stream from Safeco Field in the eighth inning of the Mariners eventual six-pitcher no-hitter against the Dodgers.
I counted roughly a hundred fans leaving that game early even though the Mariners were en route to just the third no-hitter in club history.
Why? Why leave a game with a no-hitter intact?
“Because it’s cold and I’m freezing and I’m old and go to bed early,’’ a gray-haired fan named Carol said.
Yes, but the Mariners have a no-hitter going!
“And we’re real proud of them,” Carol said, continuing on her way to the parking garage.
“I live an hour away from here and I fall asleep on the road if I leave later,” said a fan in a Brooklyn Dodgers jacket.
When I called after him, “But it’s a no-hitter!”, he shouted back, “That’s what radio is for!”
My line of questioning was a touchy subject. Most of the fans declined to provide their last names, if any name at all. Some, such as a guy who identified himself only as John, got a little defensive. When I asked if he had ever seen a no-hitter before he said, “I have. I saw Humber earlier this year. A perfect game.”
Oh, well, in that case, OK. After all, no-hitters are as plentiful in Seattle as Starbucks. No need to sit in the stands for one more entire inning to see yet another one.
“I don’t get excited over multi-pitcher no-hitters,” John added.
This was a view shared by others. Paul Milkie said he would have stayed but “It’s not a real no-hitter.” I’ll grant you, a multiple-pitcher no-hitter has a different feel, but it still counts as a no-hitter and is worth staying for. Milkie didn’t buy it, though. He just kept walking to his car, as did the guy right behind him who answered my query about why he was leaving with a disgusted: “My wife is bored!”
Well, how do you argue with that?
Fortunately, not everyone wanted to leave. “Our ride is leaving,” complained Justin Emery, adding he and friend Sam Britt definitely would have stayed had their pal with the car not insisted on leaving. “He’s like, ‘I’m going,’ and I’m like, ‘@#*$! I’ve got to get a ride home,’” Emery said. “Apparently, he’s not a baseball fan.”
I’m not sure where Emery lives, but if it was anywhere between Chehalis and Mount Vernon, he should have stayed for the no-hitter and walked home.
Andrew Deming, Jake Wham, Zach Curry, and Alex Diaconou, meanwhile, were at a nearby concert venue for a night on the town when they heard the Mariners had a no-hitter going.
“We’re all die-hard Mariners fans. Die-hard,” Deming said. “I was here at the Humber perfect game earlier this year, but for the chance to be on the other side of it? Even though Kevin Millwood came out of the game, it was still a no-hitter. When the Mariners scored, we rushed over here!”
And they arrived just in time to see other fans leaving.
“I don’t understand it,” Deming said. “I can’t understand how you can go to a baseball game and leave when something amazing is about to happen. I just don’t get it. We’re trying to take advantage of it to see what happens, no matter what happens.”
I don’t get it, either. I’ve seen a couple thousand games in my career, and lord knows, there are plenty I’ve left early. And I know fans have plenty of good reasons to leave early, too. Bad traffic. Work or school in the morning. Expensive babysitters. Miserable conditions. Lousy game. A good movie at the Guild 45th.
But to leave during something as rare and magical as a no-hitter? When the game is nearly over anyway? I just don’t get it. Why the hell did you even come in the first place if you were only going to leave if the game got exciting? I mean, it’s not as if the Mariners have exactly provided very many riveting games over the past few seasons.
I understand if it’s a lousy game and you left just before four players suddenly hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs in the ninth. How were you to know that would happen? But there are certain conditions in which you do know you risk missing something magical if you leave the ballpark early.
Here are the ten conditions when you can’t leave until the game ends, no matter how bad the traffic, now matter how early your boss wants you in the office, how cold the weather is or how good the prices are at the Nordstroms half-yearly sale:
1. A No-Hitter Is Intact. This law is so immutable even hardened baseball writers follow it, even when there are no free hot dogs left in the press box.
2. Batter Has Three Home Runs. Especially if he’s batting against the Rockies.
3. Pitcher Has 13 Ks Or More After Sixth Inning. Especially if he’s facing the Mariners.
4. Batter Is One Hit Shy Of Cycle. Unless it’s Jesús Montero and he needs a triple.
5. Significant Record Or Milestone In Reach. Three thousand career hits, 700th home run, 263rd hit, or 73rd home run of the season, 57-game hitting streak…basically anything truly noteworthy (not including most pitching changes in one game).
6. Any Potential Clinching Game. Even if it’s looking impossible—say, the Rays trail the Yankees by seven runs in the eighth inning on the final night of the regular season—if there is something important on the line, you must stay and cheer your team. Because you never know. Of course, this really isn’t an issue in Seattle these days.
7. Actually, Any Final Game Of Season. Savor those last innings no matter where your team is in the standings. Winters can be long. In fact, as I write this in mid-June, I’m still wearing fleece.
8. A Star’s Final Game. And cross your fingers he goes out like Ted Williams (a home run in his final career at-bat) instead of like Ken Griffey Jr. (nodding off and then steering his car onto I-90 for a 3,000-mile drive).
9. Any World Series Game Your Team Plays. Even if they’re getting slaughtered. World Series games are so precious that to squander even one inning in a rout is considered a sin by the baseball gods. Again, this is basically a hypothetical in Seattle.
10. Game Goes Beyond 12th Inning. Yes, it sounds counter-intuitive that the longer the game lasts the more important it is to stay, but once games go deep into extra innings, all sorts of wild, wonderful things happen. One of the most memorable games I ever saw was that 2000 Red Sox-Mariners game Mike Cameron won on a 19th inning home run. As the late, great Dave Niehaus and I discussed, the longer the game lasted, the more we wanted it to go on forever.
After all, the whole reason we go to games in the first place is to see something interesting, right?
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His stories and videos can be found regularly on ESPN.com’s baseball, Olympics, Playbook, and W pages.