On Thursday night, Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta helped make a little history: He threw a no-hitter and his Cubs just shellacked the Cincinnati Reds, coming away with a 16-0 victory that is the new most lopsided victory in a no-hitter since baseball's mound was moved to its current distance of 60 feet, six inches from home plate.
That mound move happened in 1893. Jake Arrieta and his team made a thing happen that did not happen for an entire century, plus 21 full seasons of Major League Baseball on either side of it.
On Friday night, Delanie Gourley and the Florida Gators matched the feat — in five innings, and despite a rain delay.
Gourley struck out four batters, including the first three she saw, and faced just one more than the minimum over five innings, as No. 1 Florida roughed up Mississippi State for a 16-0 run-rule victory.
Florida scored seven runs in the first inning, then put two runners on in the bottom of the third before a rain delay of just more than an hour halted play. When the game resumed, the Gators pushed across five runs in the frame — then added another four in the bottom of the fourth, eventually tallying more runs and hits than outs. Florida also left six runners on, and left the bases juiced in the scoreless second inning.
And so we got a distinction that is almost totally unverifiable but seems obviously true: There have never been no-hitters that ended 16-0 in MLB and NCAA softball on consecutive nights before, and yet there were on Thursday and Friday.
As for the Gators, though, that offensive explosion, fueled by Kayli Kvistad's massive night — the sophomore went 4-for-4, clubbed two homers, and drove in five runs — is actually probably more important than Gourley's no-no.
Unbelievably, that's because it's rarer, and answers the Gators' only question this year.
Florida has laid waste to foes all season, and largely done so with pitching. Gourley, sophomore Aleshia Ocasio, and freshman Kelly Barnhill have been aces on the mound, and are set to comprise the first trio of Florida pitchers to all win 15 games in a season when Gourley and Barnhill collect their next wins. All three have ERAs under 1.30, and each has at least three shutouts to her name.
Collectively, they have posted a tiny 0.80 ERA, best in the nation by more than three tenths of a run per inning. Individually, Ocasio's 0.42 ERA was by far the best in the nation entering the weekend, while Gourley's Friday outing dropped her ERA to 0.72, moving her from fourth to a tie for second with Florida Atlantic's Kylee Hanson.
Gourley's no-hitter, meanwhile, is the second of her season, following one hurled against South Dakota in March, and the third of her career, giving her a sixth of the 18 non-perfect solo no-hitters in program history and a tie with Hannah Rogers for the program's lead in that category. It's also the third no-hitter of Florida's season (Ocasio notched one against Jacksonville in February), and that makes 2016 the sixth season this century (2000, 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2014) in which Florida has thrown at least three no-hitters, including combined no-nos.
In other words, no-hitters just aren't that rare in collegiate softball, especially for Florida, and the Gators' pitching has been okay, I guess.
That pitching has more than made up for Florida's offense failing to get its full complement of hitters in grooves. That lack of rhythm helps explain how the Gators' 16 runs on Friday could be their most in a game this season, and just their second outing with more than 11 runs.
The fear for other teams is that Florida may be finding its form at the plate. Last weekend's series against Louisiana was pitched as the Ragin' Cajuns' bats against Florida's arms, given their NCAA-leading 77 homers coming in, but UL also boasted the nation's No. 4 ERA coming in, a 1.52 mark. Florida nearly inflated that over 2.00 by plating 22 runs on the weekend, and the Ragin' Cajuns now sit back in seventh place nationally in the category.
After Friday night's annihilation of the Bulldogs, the Gators have scored 41 runs in their last five games, a total that makes their 44 runs in the previous 12 games seems small. Add that sort of offense to Florida's pitching — and a defense that leads the nation in fielding percentage, and is on pace to top the school record in the category, set by last year's team — and you have a team that is a prohibitive favorite to win the national title, and trending toward historic dominance.
Oh, and the last time out prior to this recent run of form? Florida's suspended — and scoreless — game against Florida State, one that will be completed in early May.
Sure is a shame that Mother Nature's intervention on that night seems to have given the Gators a chance to get the thunder back in their backs, isn't it?