You want to stump your friends in Trivia?
Here are two questions you can ask regarding baseball.
1. Who was the last Braves pitcher to throw a no hitter?
2. Which Braves starter in the Bobby Cox era started two no hitters?
Greg Maddux would be the easy first reply.
Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, the other two Hall of Famers would be good guesses. People who really know the Braves might go deeper with the likes of Steve Avery, Charlie Liebrandt, Denny Neagle, Kevin Millwood etc.
Kent Mercker did it.
He started two no hitters (note how I phrased that), as none of the other Brave legends and Cy Young contenders did it once.
Mercker was the 5th overall selection in the 1986 draft by the Braves. It was a pretty talented draft with Kevin Brown, Greg Swindell, Matt Williams and Jeff King picked ahead of him and Gary Sheffield right behind him.
That is a pretty successful first 6 picks in the draft! The first one that didn’t work out was Brad Brink at 7 for the Phillies. After a few shortened seasons in the minors, Mercker broke out as a top prospect for Durham in 1988 (the same year Bull Durham came out, FYI).
After pitching well for Richmond in 1989, he had a cameo with Atlanta and became one of the top 50 prospects in baseball.
The Atlanta pitching staff was brimming with young talent going into the 1990’s. John Smoltz and Tom Glavine were at the forefront. So were top prospects like Pete Smith, Marvin Freeman, Steve Avery and Mark Wohlers. Kent Mercker was 22 years in his first full season in the majors and was converted to the bullpen.
Then in 1991, joined with veterans Juan Berenguer and Alejandro Pena and fellow young left hander Mike Stanton, Mercker worked on the team that turned the franchise around.
He made 46 relief appearances and 4 starts, saving 6 games along the way. His ERA was a solid .2.58 and Mercker helped the young Braves team overtake the star studded Dodgers team for the NL West. (Someone please e mail firstname.lastname@example.org and explain to me why Atlanta was in the West.)
One of his starts came against San Diego on September 11th. (That was just a day back then.) He was outstanding throwing 82 pitches over 6 innings, allowing no runs. And oh yeah, no hits. After 6, Mark Wohlers threw a pair of hitless innings and Alejandro Pena threw a hitless ninth.
It was a spot start and he was not expected to go 9. Instead he got the win and the start in a 1-0 combined no hitter. The last two Braves no hitters were by Hall of Famers (Warren Spahn and Phil Niekro.) If Mercker was making a pitch to start a post season game, that was quite an attempt. But in the end, he would be in the bullpen.
In the post season, he lost Game 4 of the NLCS to Pittsburgh by letting up a 10th inning run. The Braves would win the pennant. Mercker would not let up a run in either of his World Series appearances against Minnesota, which the Braves lost by the most narrow of margins: 1-0 in the 10th inning of Game 7.
But the Braves were now set for multiple runs to the post season and Mercker, with his role as left handed long man and spot starter, looked to exchange a chance to be in the rotation with October glory. He did not make a start in the 1992 season but did appear in the post season as the Braves again lost a dramatic World Series, this time to Toronto.
In 1993, Mercker was the definition of a middle reliever. He made 43 appearances and finished only 9. He got 3 wins and no saves. But the 25 year old remained effective and the Braves snuck past San Francisco on the last day of the season to win one of the most dramatic NL West races in history. (Again, Atlanta is in the East. What was going on here?)
Mercker made 5 appearances in the NLCS to Philadelphia, another dramatic loss.
In 1994, with the Braves having the deepest rotation in baseball, the idea of 26 year old Mercker being a starter on the staff seemed remote. But an injury to Steve Avery opened a spot in the starting staff at the beginning of the year.
In his first start of the season against Los Angeles on April 8, 1994, Mercker worked around 2 walks in the first. He walked another batter in the 4th and got another walk in the 6th. But he allowed no runs and no hits at that points.
This was as far as he got in his FIRST No Hit bid. He had a 3-0 lead when Terry Pendleton tripled and Javier Lopez drove him home with a sacrifice fly in the top of the 7th. With 2 outs and nobody on, Mercker came up to bat. He struck out looking but more importantly, manager Bobby Cox was going to give him a shot to close out the game.
He got the Dodgers 1-2-3 in the 7th. Jose Offerman took Mercker deep in the top of the 8th but Deion Sanders tracked it down.
Pendleton added to the lead with an RBI double in the 9th and once again, Mercker was allowed to bat for himself.
In the bottom of the 9th, Mercker got Brett Butler and Mike Piazza with strikeouts and Eric Karros hit one back to the mound to finish the no hitter.
Maddux and Glavine had won Cy Youngs while Smoltz and Avery won LCS MVPs but the no hitter went to Mercker.
He started 17 of 20 appearances in 1994 but the season was cut short by the strike. In 1995, Mercker was in the rotation for most of the year, starting 26 of 29 games to mixed results. The Braves were back in the post season and he made a pair of appearances including in the World Series against Cleveland. The Braves finally won it all and Mercker got his ring.
After 1995, Mercker bounced around with stops in Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Boston and in Anaheim. He started games for the Red Sox in the 1999 Division Series and ALCS.
A cerebral hemorrhage nearly ended his life, let alone his career in 2000. But in 2002, he made a dramatic comeback with the Rockies. He pitched well with Cincinnati in 2003 and returned to Atlanta for the end of the year, playing in the post season again with the Braves.
He pitched until 2008, completing a career that spanned 18 seasons.
Never a star but almost always reliable, Mercker earned his role on one of the great pitching staffs of all time. And unlike his Hall of Fame counterparts, he was able to toss the no no. And he did it twice.
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