Atlanta Braves no-hitters: 1994, Kent Mercker

Pitcher Kent Mercker of the Atlanta Braves from a game in 2003. (Photo by Craig Melvin/Getty Images)
Pitcher Kent Mercker of the Atlanta Braves from a game in 2003. (Photo by Craig Melvin/Getty Images) /

The final no-hitter for the Atlanta Braves seems like an act of divine justice.

While no-hitters are the result of skill, the element of luck is oddly also a key component… as such, they pop up seemingly from nowhere, and perhaps that’s why the Atlanta Braves have seen just three in 55 seasons in Georgia — despite the quality of pitching we’ve had over the decades.

I mean… how else can you explain some of the pitchers who have thrown such gems in the majors through the years:

  • Joe Cowley.  4 years in the majors with a 4.20 lifetime ERA and 33-25 record.  He no-hit the Angels in 1986… well, kinda:  the score was 7-1 so in MLB lore, it doesn’t really count.
  • Len Barker.  11 seasons with a 4.34 ERA and 74-76 record.  Yet he has a perfecto thrown for Cleveland in 1981 over the Blue Jays.
  • Juan Nieves.  Just 3 MLB years with a 32-25 record, 1.496 WHIP and 4.71 ERA.  He no-hit the Orioles in 1987 as a member of the (AL) Brewers.

Despite an 18-year career, Kent Mercker kinda falls into this category of “unlikely” members of this exclusive club.  And yet he’s a part of two of the three times that the Atlanta Braves have turned the trick.

Nobody named Glavine, Smoltz, Maddux, Avery, Hudson, Neagle… oh, some of them got very close.  But Kent Mercker finished the job.

What’s most interesting is that he did have a second chance after Bobby Cox pulled him from the 1991 combination no-hitter game.  That one left a lot of “what if” questions… and Cox took some heat for that, despite the result that night.

Little did he or Mercker know that both would have another chance to relive those decisions 2½ years later.

The 5th Starter

It was the April 8, 1994.  The fifth game of the year.  Atlanta was already on a roll despite opening the year on the West Coast, having smoked the Padres in four straight games to open the season.

In those contests, the pitching went like this:

  • Maddux:  8 innings, 0 runs (1 overall)
  • Glavine:  7 innings, 0 runs (1 overall)
  • Smoltz:  7 innings, 0 runs (2 overall)
  • Avery:  4.1 innings, 6 runs/4 earned (8 overall… but Atlanta scored 10 in 11 innings)

So for game 5, they motored up the coast to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers with Mercker going against Pedro Astacio.

Astacio actually pitched well, but into some bad luck… kinda.  He struck out 11 Braves in 7.2 innings, but the first 3 hits (or just 5) left the yard.

In that last Braves no-hitter, Terry Pendleton provided all of the offense with a homer.  He popped another dinger in this contest, too… and then tripled later on.

If you like “deep” lineups, then this is one for you:  Deion Sanders leading off, followed by Jeff Blauser, Ryan Klesko, and Fred McGriff.

After the Crime Dog was David Justice, Pendleton, Javy Lopez, and Mark Lemke.  No wonder they were 4-0.

But the Dodgers weren’t exactly slouches either:  Delino DeShields was at the top, followed by Brett Butler, Mike Piazza, Eric Karros, Tim Wallach, and Raul MondesiBilly Ashley, Jose Offerman and Astacio filled out their starting nine.

They came in with a 2-1 record, having hosted the Marlins for their opening series.

Mercker was ready for them.  He was coming off his best year thus far:  a 2.86 ERA in 66 innings during 1993 as a 25-year-old.  1994 would see 112.1 innings and a quite respectable 3.45 earned runs rate during this shortened season.

On this night, Ed Rapuano was behind the plate and he seemed to have a fairly wide strike zone… which also accounts for Astacio’s K-totals as neither pitcher was truly a “strikeout artist”.

The Game

The Braves went 1-2-3 to open the contest, and it initially appeared that Mercker was in trouble early.  He walked DeShields, who — after a strikeout — then stole second base to give Piazza an RBI chance.

Piazza fanned, but Karros was also walked.  A flyout to center ended the threat.

Atlanta responded with two homers:  McGriff and the aforementioned Pendleton.  2-0 Atlanta.

Mercker then settled in:  1-2-3 in the second with 2 groundouts.  A slight hiccup in the 3rd — another walk — but a grounder forced that runner for the third out of the inning.

A homer into some eerily empty outfield seats by Justice made it 3-0 Braves in the 4th.

In the Dodger half of the 4th and 5th, you could tell how well it was going for Mercker now:

  • Groundout to short
  • Strikeout
  • Nubbed ball in front of the plate:  2-3 putout
  • Strikeout
  • Strikeout
  • Grounder to third.

That latter grounder may have been one of the defensive gems noted by ESPN in their recap that night:  Pendleton made an excellent snag of a short hop and subsequent throw to the tall McGriff for the out.

But if you want to know about the luck factor, that came in the sixth.

After a groundout to second, Mercker walked the speedy Brett Butler.  He then K’d Mike Piazza (again) to bring up Eric Karros.

On a 1-1 count, Butler lit out for second.  Karros, playing the hit-and-run, lined a shot up the middle.  But Lemke had moved over to cover second on the steal attempt (see 40 seconds into the ESPN highlight linked above) and was in perfect position to catch the ball in the air.  End of inning.

By the way, there’s a real good chance Butler would have been safe had Karros held up.

  • 7th inning:  1-2-3 with two more infield grounders.
  • 8th inning:  Another 1-2-3… a fly to “deep” center for an out, another fly to short right, and a grounder to short.

Then the 9th inning:  The Dodgers are helpless and Rapuano didn’t help them either… Butler strikeout, Piazza strikeout (3 on the night), and Karros grounded weakly to Mercker’s left.

Mercker snagged the ball, ran it half of the way to first, and then tossed it to McGriff to secure the victory and the no-hitter.

It was his first complete game ever and one of only two (both in 1994) in his career.

Bobby Cox must have been fidgeting a lot in the dugout, as he allowed Mercker to throw 131 pitches in this, his first start of the year.  It probably didn’t help the nerves that Leo Mazzone was rocking incessantly next to him, either.

But it was done and it was in the history books.  A true no-hitter for Kent Mercker.

The Atlanta Braves would then go on to sweep the Dodgers and run their record to 7-0 before the Giants finally got to them to open the next series.

Next. Show Me the Power. dark

But now 26 years later, this stands as the last Atlanta Braves no-no… and from one of their more unlikely sources.  But even at that, it was satisfying to see Mercker get to finish this one.