As I was leaving the Great American Ball Park press box Thursday night after covering Jake Arrieta’s 16-0 no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds, I was asked by Pat Hughes, the great Cubs broadcaster, “How many no-hitters have you covered?”
I thought about it and ticked them off on my fingers and said, “Five, including one perfect game.”
That’s pretty good, I thought to myself, until Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, one of America’s best baseball writers, asked me the same question. Then he said, “I’ve covered eight, including two perfect games. I’ve covered a lot of bad teams.”
I WASN’T EVEN the beat writer for the Dayton Daily News when I covered my first no-hitter. I was sitting at home in the late morning of June 23, 1971 when my phone rang. It was my sports editor, Ralph Morrow. “Jim Ferguson (the DDN’s beat writer) can’t make it tonight to the game so you’re up,” he said.
So I was in the press box to see two historic events, one of which had never happened before and hasn’t happened since. Philadelphia’s Rick Wise not only pitched a no-hitter, he hit two home runs against Ross Grimsley. Wise is the only pitcher ever to pitch a no-hitter and hit two home runs.
The Phillies won, 4-0, and the game lasted 1:53. Wise missed a perfect game because he issued one walk to Dave Concepcion in the sixth inning while striking out three.
MY SECOND NO-HITTER came on June 16, 1978 and the pitcher was Tom Seaver, one of baseball’s all-time great pitchers. He was in his 11th season, most of them with the New York Mets, but had never pitched a no-hitter. And he never pitched another.
One of the sidelights was that Seaver and Johnny Bench, the best catcher of all-time, were tight friends. But Bench wasn’t the catcher that night due to an injury and the no-hitter was caught by back-up catcher Don Werner. Bench caught one no-hitter during his Hall of Fame career, one thrown by Jim Maloney in 1969.
Seaver walked three, struck out three and the Reds committed an error as 38,216 watched the 2:03 game at Riverfront Stadium.
MY THIRD NO-HITTER was a perfecto, Tom Browning’s perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 16, 1988.
The game was delayed for three hours by rain before it started at 10 o’clock. The crowd was announced as 16,591, but because of the long rain delay there probably was not 2,000 in the stands when the game began.
But Browning says, “If everybody who comes up to me and say they were at that game was really at that game the attendance would have been 300,000.”
AND FOR SIX INNINGS it was a double no-hitter. Tim Belcher, who later pitched for the Reds, was Browning’s opponent and he took a no-hitter into the sixth until Barry Larkin doubled and scored the game’s only run in a 1-0 Reds victory.
Belcher pitched a complete game and gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out seven. Browning gave up no runs, no hits, no walks and struck out seven.
His seventh strikeout was a called strike three on Tracy Woodson and Browning grabbed the baseball.
“But it’s gone now,” Browning said of the ball. “My kids took it off the mantel and played with it and lost it in the woods or down a sewer drain or something.”
I MISSED HOMER BAILEY’S no-hitter in Pittsburgh on September 28, 2012. And when Bailey took the mound the next year on July 2, 2013, no other pitcher had thrown a no-hitter since Bailey’s.
And he did it again and I was there. He beat the San Francisco Giants, 3-0, and missed a perfect game when he walked Gregor Blanco to lead off the seventh inning.
After the no-hitter, during which he struck out nine and needed only 109 pitches, the media kept harping on his walk and in frustration he began wearing a tee-shirt under his uniform that said, “I Walked An ‘Effin’ Hitter.’”
As he talked to the media after the game, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Every dog has his day, twice I guess.”
THEN CAME THURSDAY night and Arrieta’s totally dominating performance. By the sixth inning it was evident that it would take a bad break, a lucky hit, to ruin Arrieta’s night. It never happened. After six innings the Reds had hit only two balls out of the infield. They hit two feeble fly balls in the ninth and had only five balls reach the outfield.
It was Arrieta’s second no-hitter, just 11 starts ago last August in Los Angeles was his first. That’s the third shortest time between no-hit starts in baseball history. Cincinnati’s Johnny Vander Meer pitched back-to-back no-hitters in 1938 and Warren Spahn had three starts between no-hitters for the Milwaukee Braves, one at the end of the 1960 season and the second at the beginning of the 1961 season.
Arrieta also is only the fourth pitcher to throw a no-hitter the season after winning the Cy Young Award, joining Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Clayton Kershaw.
FOR THE REDS, there is no other word to describe the night: embarrassing. The 16-0 defeat was the worst by a team suffering a no-hitter since 1884, when a team called the Buffalo Bisons beat a team called the Detroit Wolverines, 18-0.
Asked after the game what kind of feeling a game like this leaves in the clubhouse, Reds manager Bryan Price said, “You tell me what you’re feeling. If you are a Reds fan you are feeling miserable. As good as Arrieta was, nobody wants to get no-hit. Nobody wants to give up 16 runs. Nothing positive can come out of that game.”
Well, nobody got hurt, at least physically. Emotionally? Who knows?
SAID JAY BRUCE, “It’s tough. We got dominated. That’s the most dominating game I’ve ever been part of. He was great. We weren’t.”
Now there is an honest appraisal.