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Mark BradleyMark Bradley

Aaron Harang: No no-hitter, but what an April!

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Aaron Harang, the hitless wonder. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

Aaron Harang, the hitless wonder. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

I know why Fredi Gonzalez did it. He’d gotten a fourth great start from Aaron Harang, who might not have a big-league job if the elbows of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy hadn’t come unhinged on consecutive spring-training days, and Harang had labored through the seventh inning, recording the game’s 21st out with his 121st pitch. At the rate he was going, he’d have needed maybe 150 pitches to post the Atlanta Braves’ third one-man no-hitter, and that’s too many for anybody.

Yes, it would have been fun to see him try, but the Braves didn’t sign Harang — who arrived here with a career losing record and who was seen simply as a (slightly) cheaper version of Freddy Garcia, the journeyman’s journeyman — to provide one night’s worth of memories. They need him to eat innings. Trouble is, he’s eating innings with such dispatch that the Associated Press has had to break out the No-Hit Alert twice in his four starts.

That was the dilemma Gonzalez faced Friday in Queens, N.Y., though it really wasn’t much of a choice. If Harang had gotten through the eighth at 121 pitches, I’m pretty sure his manager would have given him the chance to complete his work. But he still needed two innings, and for a team that keeps losing pitchers — even Craig Kimbrel was rested this week with an ouchy shoulder — the lure of an historic Friday in Queens wasn’t enough to trump health and common sense.

Still, it was delicious while it lasted. The first Atlanta Brave to throw a solo no-hitter was Phil Niekro, which you’d have expected. The second was Kent Mercker, the fifth starter on perhaps the greatest rotation ever. Mercker is actually in the Braves’ record book twice for no-nos, having thrown six hitless innings in a spot start on Sept. 11, 1991, when the Braves needed every precious game to stay ahead of the hated Dodgers.

Mark Wohlers worked the seventh and eighth, and Alejandro Pena, with help from a dubious error assessed against Terry Pendleton, finished the tripartite no-hitter, which somehow didn’t feel quite like a real no-hitter. (I was there.)  Indeed, Pena was so unmoved that he tossed the game ball into the stands. (It was hastily retrieved.)

After Harang was lifted, the Braves had a chance to finish another combo platter, but Luis Avilan hung a breaking ball to David Wright, and the only real Mets hitter did what real hitters do with hanging breaking balls. It’s a bit of a shame such an overstuffed night — if not for Wright’s single, we’d be talking about the apparently incorrect out call at first base against Travis d’Arnaud in the second inning — ended with such a relative whimper, but still: Aaron Harang!

He was cut by the Cleveland Indians in March. He has started four games for the Braves, working 25 2/3 innings, yielding two earned runs. If you’re looking for the National League’s absolute best pitcher of April 2014, here he is.

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