About halfway through last Friday’s game against the Indians in Cleveland, I noted on Twitter that Reds pitcher Wade Miley has serious Tom Browning vibes. I wish I could say that I was making a prediction about how the evening would turn out, but I was actually commenting on the fact that Miley is a lefty who works really fast, just like Browning did during a career that landed him in the Reds Hall of Fame.
As the game progressed toward its memorable finish, the parallels between Miley and Browning’s historic perfect game back became clearer, if you cared to look for them. Browning’s gem on September 16, 1988, was delayed by rain for two hours and 27 minutes. The Reds and Indians weren’t quite delayed that long on Friday, but rain held up play in Cleveland for more than an hour and a half before the teams were allowed on the field.
In addition, Browning’s perfecto was the shortest Reds game of the 1988 season, clocking in at an hour and 51 minutes. Miley’s was very nearly the shortest Reds game of this season so far, four minutes longer than a 3–0 loss to the Giants in mid-April. But both games proceeded at a brisk pace, which has become something of a trademark for Miley in an 11-year big league career.
Alas, a sixth-inning error prevented Miley from having a chance of joining Browning as the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in Reds history, but he did complete the franchise’s 17th no-hitter—the first since Homer Bailey’s second no-no nearly eight years ago—providing the biggest highlight of this young season.
Miley was masterful against the Indians, striking out eight hitters while throwing a season-high 114 pitches. In many no-hitters, there are a couple of outstanding defensive plays along the way that help the pitcher secure his spot in history. There were none on Friday, mostly thanks to the fact that Miley gave up very little hard contact. (Given the state of the Reds defense, which is not good, it’s fine that no one was required to make anything other than a routine play.) Cleveland’s average exit velocity against Miley was 84.7 mph. To give you some context, he entered the game ranked second in the entire league in lowest average exit velocity allowed, at 83.6 mph. He forces soft contact more often than the rest of the Reds rotation.
What’s interesting about the dominance Miley displayed during the no-hitter is that he stands in stark contrast to most pitchers around baseball, who are trying to top each other by throwing harder, harder, harder. Miley topped 90 mph only seven times during his gem. Even better, he threw 11 pitches slower than 80 mph. Miley is a throwback, depending on his change-up and cutter to keep hitters off balance. It certainly worked against Cleveland.
As with many of these moments, some great storylines emerged in the aftermath. During the off-day prior to Miley’s start, his 4-year-old son Jeb gave him a temporary tattoo of The Incredible Hulk. The tattoo was present on Miley’s forearm throughout the game. “He actually put this on and everything,” Miley said afterwards. “He had to have it right here. I put it on my shoulder so I could hide it. He had to have it on my forearm. And that’s what we went with. He loves the Avengers and stuff like that, so I’m rocking it…. I’ve got no muscles at all. I’m shriveled up. But maybe this gave me some strength, I don’t know. It was fun.”
Teammate Nick Castellanos suggested that Miley should get that Hulk permanently tattooed on his forearm. “I don’t know,” Miley said. “I’m so scared of needles right now, I don’t even want to think about this tattoo. I’m gonna try to get my wife to order as many Hulk tattoos as she can. Maybe I’ll just slap on them before every start.”
Tucker Barnhart was behind the plate for the excitement. After the game, he revealed all the ways things could have gone awry. “It’s funny. I have a catcher card,” Barnhart said. “I forgot it in [my] locker before the game and never came back up to my locker to get it. It’s got the scouting report on it and things like that. We didn’t have a pitcher-catcher meeting prior to the game. Tyler Naquin was saying that he played the wrong side of the outfield card the entire game. And Wade was saying we should bag the game because of the rain from about 6:30 on. A lot of weird, funny things happened. But I’m really glad we didn’t. Everything was working. I think that’s obvious.”
It was a fun moment, no question about it. But what has been left unexamined is the fact that Miley is and has been far more important to the Reds’ chances of success than most observers have acknowledged. Miley isn’t active on social media, and it’s a good thing—the fact that he was in the Opening Day rotation caused much consternation among a certain group of hardcore Reds fans.
That reaction had less to do with Miley’s talent than with the fact that he was pretty bad last year, his first season with Cincinnati (and thus the only time some of these fans had ever seen him pitch). But that bad performance came in just 14.1 innings, during which Miley was mostly injured.
But he has a pedigree. He was a first round draft pick (of Arizona in 2008), and he’s had a consistently stellar career that includes one All-Star selection. He’s never really been an ace, but the Reds need him to be a No. 4 starter and his performance this season (4–2, 2.00 ERA) would make him the best fourth starter in the entire National League.
Miley is 34, sure, but the no-no shows he still has something left in the tank. And except for last year’s injury-filled campaign, he’s been consistently good since his career resurgence back in 2018 with Milwaukee. His pitching coach that year was Derek Johnson, who of course currently serves as the Reds’ pitching guru. It’s a match made in heaven, and it’s paying real dividends for Cincinnati so far.
Is Miley going to finish the season with a 2.00 ERA, leading the Reds in victories? The answer to that is almost certainly “no.” But with Luis Castillo struggling and Sonny Gray missing early starts with injury, Miley’s consistent excellence has been invaluable to a club that’s trying to keep their heads above water in the NL Central race.
The Reds signed Miley two winters ago, but his acquisition was almost an afterthought during an off-season that saw Cincinnati spend money to bring in higher-profile free agents like Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, and Shogo Akiyama. If the Reds end up making a playoff run, it’s very likely that we will have to credit Wade Miley for keeping the team in the race early.
For one night, Miley was the biggest star in town. By season’s end, he could be just as valuable to this club as Castellanos, Moustakas, or anyone else.
Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, Redleg Nation Radio. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.