Saturday, July 25, 2009

18 PERFECT GAMES--WHAT ABOUT THE NEAR MISSES?

While driving home last Thursday after Mark Buehrle's perfect game no-hitter, we got to talking about some of the near misses involving Chicago teams. For a brief moment in the Buehrle game, it appeared this would be one of them. DeWayne Wise saved the day, of course, with his sensational catch over the left field wall.

With the help of the Internet, I researched games in which no-hitters were broken up in the ninth inning and found that it's a lot more common than you'd think. Since 1961, when Major League Baseball expanded, there have been 123 no-hitters and another 129 broken up in the ninth inning. After the second out of the ninth inning, 80% of the pitchers were able to complete the no-hitter.

The Cubs have had a few interesting ones. On May 22, 1955, in Milwaukee's County Stadium, the Cubs' Warren Hacker took a no-hitter into the ninth inning. With one out, Braves' pinch hitter George Crowe hit a home run, but the Cubs won 2-1. Incredibly, Hacker didn't strike out anybody and only walked 1 batter. In fact, 16 of the Braves' 29 batters either lined out or flied out to the outfield. Hacker wasn't fooling many hitters, but sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

On September 2, 1972, the Cubs' Milt Pappas had a perfect game going against the San Diego Padres, retiring the first 26 batters. The 27th, pinch hitter Larry Stahl worked the count to 3 and 2 and walked on a marginal pitch. The umpire wasn't in a hurry to go home. Pappas retired the next batter for his no-hitter. To this day, Pappas is still bitter about the umpire's call in the 9th inning.

The NY Mets Hall of Fame right hander Tom Seaver had a no-hitter going at Wrigley Field on September 24, 1975. With 2 outs in the ninth inning, the Cubs' pinch hitter, "Tarzan" Joe Wallis somehow reached a low outside pitch and stroked an opposite field single. Unfortunately for "Tarzan", for the rest of his brief career, he hit more like Jane. Seaver had earlier pitched a near no-hitter against the Cubs on July 9, 1969 which was broken up by Jim Qualls with one out in the ninth inning.

The legendary Nolan Ryan, author of 7 no-hitters in his long career, had one into the ninth inning on August 7, 1974 at old Comiskey Park in Chicago. White Sox slugger Richie "Dick" Allen swung hard and trickled a slow roller down the third base line. The Angels' third baseman made a terrific play, but Allen beat the throw for an infield hit. The next hitter, Carlos May smacked a sharp grounder off the first baseman's glove for an error. Ryan became unglued at that point and served up base hits to Ken Henderson and Bill Sharp and lost the game 2-1. Over his career, Ryan had 4 other no-hitters broken up in the ninth inning, all with one out. In fact, on 24 occasions, including the above, the overpowering righthander carried no-hitters into the seventh inning.

On April 15, 1983, the Detroit Tigers righthander Milt Wilcox carried a perfect game for 26 hitters against the White Sox. Pinch hitter Jerry Hairston, who hadn't gotten a hit in 7 tries for the season, lined a clean single to center field to break up the perfect game.

On June 27, 1958, the White Sox great lefthander Billy Pierce retired the first 26 Washington Senators one warm evening. The Nats sent up reserve catcher Ed FitzGerald to pinch hit, and on a checked swing, he lined an opposite field double over the first base bag, just inside fair territory. Pierce struck out the next man for the victory.

Some other interesting near misses include hard luck Toronto pitcher Dave Stieb who lost a no-no against the Chicago White Sox on August 24, 1985 when Rudy Law got a hit leading off the ninth inning. Several years later, Stieb lost two no-hitters in one week, on September 24th and 30th, 1988, both with 2 outs in the ninth. Cleveland's Julio Franco broke up one, and Baltimore's Jim Traher got a bad hop single in the other.

On August 21, 1973, Chisox workhorse pitcher Stan Bahnsen lost his no-hitter against Cleveland when Walter "No-Neck" Williams bounced a hit over third baseman Bill Melton's head with two outs in the ninth.

Older folks like me might remember "Toothpick" Sam Jones of the Chicago Cubs who pitched a dramatic no-hitter against Pittsburgh in his rookie season on May 12,1955. He used to chew on toothpicks when he was pitching. He was called "Toothpick" to distinguish him from "Sad" Sam Jones, a pitcher from an earlier era (who pitched a no-hitter in 1923--with zero strikeouts) , and Celtics basketball star Sam Jones. Toothpick was the first Black pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the major leagues. I watched the ninth inning of that game on TV after school. The reason I called it "dramatic" was that Jones walked the first three hitters in the ninth inning and then struck out the the heart of the Pirates batting order, Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente and Frank Thomas.

I don't know how many pitches Jones threw in that inning, but it was a lot. Jones walked 7 in that game. In those days, pitchers were expected to work out of their own jams, rather than the manager calling in a string of relief pitchers. Jones led the National League in stikeouts, walks and hit batsmen in 1955. In 241 innings, he walked 185 (an NL record) and hit 14 batsmen, while striking out 198. He was "sad" also because he lost 20 games that season. He may have been wild, but he had the best curveball in the league, according to Hall of Famer Stan Musial.

Some of the guys who spoiled no-hitters are noteworthy. The Toronto Bluejays' Nelson Liriano broke up 2 ninth inning no-hitters in one week in April, 1989. The NY Yankees' Horace Clarke broke up 3 no-hitters in the ninth inning within a month in 1970.

The early 1970's was sarcastically called the "Horace Clarke Era" in Yankees' history, named after the leadoff man who was the symbol of their ineptitude until they returned to championship form in the late 1970's. Clarke was a good player, but wasn't Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio. The most significant trade the Yankees of that era made was their two best pitchers swapped wives, kids and even their dogs. That's newsworthy, even in New York. Not long after that both pitchers were traded away.

The bottom line is, as Yogi Berra said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

KENNETH SUSKIN

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1 Comments:

Blogger prosportsrosters said...

I was there 8/7/74 and Dick Allen actually bunted.

May 18, 2014 at 12:40 PM  

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