Corbin Burnes puts himself in Cy Young race with no-hit masterpiece

Corbin Burnes made a statement about why he’s the NL’s best pitcher with a dominant no-hit performance against Cleveland on Saturday.

Corbin Burnes didn’t become the eighth pitcher to throw a no-hitter in 2021 tonight, but he may have just authored the most dominant performance of the season.

Burnes, the Brewers’ golden-haired right-hander, breezed through the Cleveland Indians lineup on Saturday. He struck out 14 in eight innings. He struck out at least two in each of the first five innings, and at least one in every inning but the sixth. He didn’t allow his first baserunner until the seventh.

But, three outs away from joining Juan Nieves as the only pitchers in Brewers history to throw a no-hitter, Burnes was lifted by manager Craig Counsell before the start of the ninth. He had already thrown a career-high 115 pitches and, with Milwaukee nursing a 3-0 lead at Progressive Field, Counsell didn’t want to risk any harm to his golden arm. Not since 1974 has a pitcher been removed from the game before the ninth inning with a no-hitter intact.

Only once did the Indians threaten to break through against Burnes. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, second baseman Owen Miller lined a ball towards the gap in right-center field. Lorenzo Cain, conjuring images from 34 years ago when Robin Yount laid out to save Nieves’ masterpiece, made a diving catch to end the inning. Back in the Brewers dugout, Burnes got a pat on the back from Counsell and a hug from catcher Omar Narvaez, his evening over before he could chase history.

Corbin Burnes makes a big move in Cy Young Award race

Burnes came up short of writing his name in the baseball record books, but his outing did go a long way toward making another bit of history. It just may have cemented his place as the frontrunner for the National League Cy Young Award. Burnes’ ERA is down to 2.25, three points better than Max Scherzer and six lower than Walker Buehler. His 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings lead the Majors. Burnes is second to Scherzer with a 0.915 WHIP.

And, importantly, neither Scherzer nor Buehler owns a statement-making game like Burnes had on Saturday. His cutter, the pitch that has led his transformation from an 8.82 ERA two years ago to one of the most dominant starters in the league, reached 97 mph. The Indians flailed at his curveball all night, with eight swings-and-misses.

Burnes was already at 103 pitches after the seventh inning. He convinced Counsell to let him go out for the eighth. The ninth, though, proved to be too much. Josh Hader came in and quickly retired the side to finish off the combined no-hit effort, but this night belonged to Burnes.

“I had to fight hard to get the eighth. I don’t think they wanted quite to send me back out with that pitch count. I knew after fighting for the eighth I didn’t have a chance for the ninth,” he told Bally Sports. “It’s awesome. This team is unbelievable. We’ve played our butts off all year and feels like we’re getting stronger coming into the end of September.”

Nieves can rest easy knowing that, for the 5,474th consecutive game, his distinction of being the only Brewers pitcher to toss a no-hitter will continue for another day. Pete Vuckovich’s 39-year reign as the last Brewers Cy Young Award winner, though, may just be about to end.

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