The Baseball Gods Work in Mysterious Ways
No-Hitters Come in Pairs
The Baseball Gods Work In Mysterious Ways
It was the season opener and my first starting assignment as a Freshman High School pitcher. I was being called the most promising pitcher in the area by everyone who counted; a lot of pressure for a 14-year-old. I thrived under pressure and baseball for me was life. We were playing East Paterson (now Elmwood Park) in a non-conference fracas at home. There was a medium-sized crowd that grew as people got off from work. Before I took the mound, I scanned the stands for familiar faces and there were many. Behind home plate and rather obvious at least to those who knew baseball were two major league scouts carrying 3-ring binders and stopwatches.
I took the mound for the first inning, took my warm-up pitches, and tried to shake the butterflies. I threw the first pitch… STRIKE ONE!!!!! The butterflies were gone. The inning ended with three batters up and three batters down...three strikeouts in a row.
There seemed to be a buzz in the stands and the scouts were busy writing in their binders and shaking their heads in approval to each other. The second inning started with another strikeout. Four in a row!! This got the attention of one of the students, Frankie. He jumped up and started pacing back and forth and yelling with every strike I threw. He got the fans into the game and when the second inning ended with three more strikeouts in a row Frankie went crazy, yelling “six in a row, six in a row” while holding his head and falling to the ground and rolling around, half taunting the other team.
Even the scouts laughed at the entertainment, but that didn’t stop them from scribbling in their binders, even faster this time. The third inning started the same way with two strikeouts and Frank was in heaven and the crowd was buzzing louder. My streak ended with 8 strikeouts in a row; some kind of record, I think. The next batter reached on a throwing error by Russell, our third baseman and the runner advanced to second on the steal.
The runner promptly broke for third on the pitch. Our catcher Frank threw the ball over the third baseman’s head and the run scored. We were behind; 1-0. I struck out the last batter that inning for nine strikeouts in 3 innings. The scouts couldn’t write fast enough and as I walked off the mound. I could read the lips of one scout as he looked toward the other and just said, “WOW”!! The game continued and I got six more strikeouts for a total of 15, and I had a no-hitter when I left the mound, but we were losing 1-0.
We didn’t score in the last inning, and I had pitched a no-hitter in my high school debut but lost. I saw the headlines the next day but still couldn’t believe it. That game was the talk of the state for weeks. As I walked up the hill to school, I was met by a contingent of friends who cheered and clapped, and patted me on the back as I headed for my usual spot next to the steps. It was nice to be recognized but I would rather have given up 10 hits and won the game. The ironies of all ironies happened about two weeks later. Ken Johnson of the Houston Astros (they may have been the Colt ‘45’s then) pitched a no-hitter against Cincinnati and lost the game 1-0; becoming the only major league pitcher to ever lose a no-hitter. I guess I was in good company. It could have ended there, and everyone could say, “Wow”, how ironic!!
However, we now jump to August of the same year. It was a hot and humid NJ afternoon, 98 degrees as I remember it. I was warming up behind the stands to face our Babe Ruth League cross-town rivals. I started out slow, working up to the hard stuff. I turned around to look out toward the stands and the field. I noticed M. P., who always seemed to show up, watching me intently. I turned back around and continued my warm-ups. The ball left my hand with an ease I hadn’t felt before. The catcher’s mitt popped with each pitch and my catcher took his hand out of the glove and shook it to get rid of the sting. I thought to myself, “this is going to be something special today”; I could feel it.
The game ended up being a pitcher’s duel as they say. No one was scoring any runs and the capacity crowd was taking it all in. It was the last inning, I had 10 strikeouts and there was a man on the second that got on by an error, he promptly stole third. No worry, there were two outs already. The next batter hit a hard line drive to right field, right at Dennis our regular right fielder. He didn’t have to move at all, and the ball hit his mitt, but Dennis forgot to squeeze it and the ball fell to the ground and the run crossed the plate. We were behind 1-0. De ja vu all over again. I struck out the next batter for number 11 and I left the mound with a no-hitter and a standing ovation from both sides of the stands, but we were losing. Surely, I couldn’t lose two no-hitters in one year!!!
We had one more chance. As I headed to get a drink from the fountain behind the stands I could feel M. P.’s eyes watching me every step of the way. I stayed back there contemplating how this could happen twice in one year. Then I heard some excitement from the crowd and returned to the dugout, all eyes on me.
We had runners on second and third, how I don’t know but it didn’t matter. There were no outs and the coach called for a pinch hitter. The pinch hitter strode to the plate and promptly hit one up the middle to drive in both runners. WE WIN!!!! NO-HITTER!!! Two gems in one year.
The players had a hard time knowing who to hug first. I looked around as my teammates celebrated. I knew who to hug. I walked over to Dennis our right fielder and gave him a hug and patted his butt to let him know not to sweat it, we all make errors and we won!!!
The real story here was not the No-Hitter, although it “tasted sweet”. The real story was the three consecutive hits that gave us the win. You say, “so what?” Ironically the winning hit came off the bat of Frank, the catcher who threw the ball into left field that let the only run score in my no-hitter earlier that year. The winning run you ask. Who else but Russell, who made the error that put the winning run on base in that first game?
The baseball GODS do work in mysterious ways.