Jon Lester, meet Mel Parnell

From SABR member Steven Goldman at Baseball Prospectus on March 23, 2012:

The late Mel Parnell passed away on Tuesday at the age of 89. In his memory, we present a piece about Parnell and the exaggerated perils of southpaw pitching at Fenway, which originally ran as a “You Could Look it Up” column on May 20, 2008.

As Will Carroll wrote last night in Unfiltered, sometimes a no-hitter is more than a no-hitter. Jon Lester‘s thorough blanking of the Kansas City Royals on Monday night certainly qualifies as such. No-hitters have achieved often enough by pitchers both distinguished and less so that it’s safe to say that these events, as wonderful as they are, are governed by pure chance. Unless you’re Ron Necciai pitching a 27-strikeout no-hitter (in the Appalachian League, alas), the pitcher is subject to the same laws on balls in play that affect every other ballgame: if the ball is hit near where someone happens to be standing, it’s an out, and the pitcher looks brilliant. If it’s hit three feet behind the pitcher’s mound and the batter has some speed, bye-bye history.

So Lester was lucky, but then Lester was already luckier than most, in that he had had cancer and not only is still on the planet, but has continued to be an athlete and perform at a high level. Forget the debilitating effects of cancer treatment; the physical and emotional stress inherent in a cancer diagnosis is incredible. That Lester pitched a no-hitter having been through that is perhaps not quite the miracle that, say, Lou Gehrig climbing out of his sickbed and having another four-homer day, it’s not J.R. Richard overcoming his stroke to strike out 15 (as he did in his major league debut), but it’s probably the closest thing we’re going to get.

From a pure baseball point of view, the most novel aspect of Lester’s game is that while he becomes the 18th pitcher in the long history of the Red Sox to throw a no-hitter (the first was Cy Young, who chucked a perfect game back in 1904), and the fourth in this decade alone (following Hideo Nomo in 2001, Derek Lowe in 2002, and Clay Buchholz last year), he is the first Boston lefty to pitch one in almost 52 years. The last was Mel Parnell’s Fenway whitewash of a Chicago White Sox lineup that included Nellie Fox, Minnie Minoso, Larry Doby, and Lou Aparacio, and took place on July 14, 1956.


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Originally published: March 26, 2012. Last Updated: March 26, 2012.