Nolan Ryan, Dave Stieb, and the Near No-Hitters of 1989

In the wake of all the hoopla about 2010 being a Year of the Pitcher, mostly on the basis of a few no-hitters, two perfect games, and a return to a fairly normal level of offense, it’s worth noting that in 1989 many pitchers came within a few outs of no-hitters and perfect games. Of course, though, no one was labeling it as a Year of the Pitcher, and no one remembers ’89 as such, even though no A.L. hitter had more than 36 homers (Fred McGriff) and no N.L. hitter scored more than 104 runs (Will Clark, Ryne Sandberg, Howard Johnson). Maybe it’s just that now, the online/tv sports media always has to hype something, and that’s how it hyped the 2010 season. Anyway, this post will list the near no-hitters/near-perfect games of 1989, and focus on Nolan Ryan and Dave Stieb, the two biggest near-miss, near no-hitter pitchers of the late ’80s.

This, from the Seattle Times of August 11, 1989:

ARLINGTON, Texas – Nolan Ryan now has a near-miss for each of his five no-hitters. Ryan, for the fifth time in his career, lost a no-hit bid in the ninth inning when Dave Bergman singled with one out last night as Texas beat Detroit 4-1.

“The pitch Bergman hit was a good pitch. I felt he was sitting on a curveball,” Ryan said. “He just hit it in the gap where there wasn’t anybody.”

Three other times this season he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning but those also ended in disappointment.

Ryan (13-7) struck out 13 and walked six in his 286th career victory. He left the game after Bergman, a .260 hitter, lined a clean, opposite-field single to left and Matt Nokes followed with a double. At age 42, Ryan was bidding to become the oldest to pitch a no-hitter. Cy Young was 41 when he did it in 1908.

Ryan has 11 career one-hitters, including two this season. On April 23, he also lost a no-hitter with one out in the ninth when Toronto’s Nelson Liriano tripled.

Ryan passed the 200-strikeout mark for the 13th time in his 21-year career. He has 4,986 strikeouts as he closes in on becoming the first pitcher with 5,000.

Ryan reached double-digits in strikeouts for the 12th time this season and the 193rd of his career, extending another of his many records.

Ryan took advantage of a 78-degree evening, cool for a Texas summer night, to stay fresh.

The Rangers made only one tough play to keep Ryan’s no-hit bid alive. Center fielder Cecil Espy made a diving catch on Dave Bergman’s liner in the fourth inning.

“Early in the game, I didn’t have command of my pitches,” said Ryan, who threw 149 pitches. “The cool weather helped me take it into the ninth.”

Ryan’s near no-hitters in ’89:

Aug. 10 vs. Detroit Won 4-1 (2-hitter) Dave Bergman, single 9th

June 25 vs. Cleveland Won 4-2 (3-hitter) Brook Jacoby, double 8th

June 3 vs. Seattle Won 6-1 (1-hitter) Harold Reynolds, single 1st

April 23 vs. Toronto Won 8-1 (1-hitter) Nelson Liriano, triple 9th

April 12 vs. Milwaukee Won 4-1 (4-hitter) Terry Francona, single 8th

The Times also provided a “list of no-hit bids that reached the ninth inning this season, with date, pitcher’s name, team, and player who broke up the no-hitter”:

— April 23: Nolan Ryan, Texas; Nelson Liriano, Toronto, one-out triple.

— April 28: Kirk McCaskill, California; Nelson Liriano, Toronto, leadoff double.

— May 4: John Farrell, Cleveland; Kevin Seitzer, Kansas City, no-out single.

— May 10: Mark Langston, Seattle; Tom Lawless, Toronto, leadoff single.

— July 4: Tom Browning, Cincinnati; Dickie Thon, Philadelphia, leadoff double.

— Aug. 4: Dave Stieb, Toronto; Roberto Kelly, New York, two-out double.

— Aug. 10: Nolan Ryan, Texas; Dave Bergman, Detroit, one-out single.

Ryan added a second nearly perfect game to close out the season, as the San Jose Mercury News reported on October 1:

Nolan Ryan, pitching what could be the final game of his career, flirted with a no-hitter for the fifth time this season, pitching 7 1/3 perfect innings and reaching 300 strikeouts as the Texas Rangers beat the California Angels 2-0 in Anaheim.

Ryan, whose bid for his first perfect game ended with a solid single to right-center by former Angels teammate Brian Downing, struck out 13 batters and finished the season with 301. Ryan raised his all-time major league record for strikeouts to 5,076.

Ryan got No. 300 by striking out Dick Schofield leading off the ninth. It was the sixth time Ryan has struck out 300 or more in a season and the first time since 1977.

Dante Bichette followed Downing with a single, and Ryan settled for a three-hitter when Mark MacLemore singled with one out in the ninth.

Ryan, who has an option year remaining on his Rangers contract, has not said if he plans to return for a 24th season. He has scheduled a news conference for Monday in Arlington, Texas, to announce his plans. Ryan has said he is considering running for office in Texas.

The victory gave Ryan a 16-10 record and 289 victories for his major league career.

As for Dave Stieb, the New York Times told the story of his own near-perfect game on August 4 vs. the Yankees in Skydome:

A small crowd waited quietly at his locker, but Dave Stieb didn’t seem to notice. He sat down, untied his shoes, then lowered his head and asked for a few moments alone. He had done all this before.

A no-hitter eluded Stieb twice last season with two out in the ninth inning, and now it had happened again. The Toronto Blue Jays pitcher thought about it, then smiled, shrugged and spoke almost inaudibly.

”If I haven’t gotten a no-hitter after three times,” he said, ”I doubt if I ever will.”

He came close again tonight. With two down in the ninth, Roberto Kelly, the Yankees’ center fielder, lined a sharp double to left field, taking a perfect game and a no-hitter away from Stieb.

It was still a 2-1, two-hit victory for the Blue Jays and Stieb, but it was clearly anticlimactic. He retired 26 consecutive batters before Kelly came to the plate in the ninth, and he had struck out 11. Two pinch-hitters, Hal Morris and Ken Phelps, went down swinging on nine pitches to start the final inning.

”When that happened,” said Dallas Green, the Yankee manager, ”you think he’s going to get it.”

But Stieb fell behind on the count to Kelly, then threw a 2-and-0 slider down and away that was driven cleanly to left. A crowd of 48,789 at the Skydome rose and offered a standing ovation.

”It’s part of the game,” Stieb said, leaning against his locker. ”I was satisfied to go that far with it, but I didn’t do myself any favor getting behind. I just let go of those two curveballs too soon. But I wouldn’t change what I did. The important thing is that we won the game.”

Kelly, recalling the moment, said: ”At that point, I know he’s got a no-hitter and a perfect game. I just wanted to break it up. I wanted to get a base hit.”

This is how dominant Stieb was: he had three balls on just one batter, Bob Geren in the fifth, and threw first-pitch balls to only seven hitters through the first eight innings. Of the first 26 batters he faced, just 4 made outs to the outfield.

”The few fastballs I saw had movement,” said Jesse Barfield, a former Toronto teammate of Stieb, ”but he threw me mostly sliders, and he had a wicked one. When he’s like that, he’s almost unhittable.”

Almost. After Kelly’s double, Steve Sax followed with a single to right to drive in a run. Cito Gaston, the Blue Jays’ manager, walked to the mound, spoke briefly with his pitcher, then returned to the dugout.

And then it was over. Luis Polonia hit a bouncer to third that Kelly Gruber fielded and threw to second base for the forceout.

”I thought Dave had it,” Gaston said, referring to a perfect game. Someone asked if there was a feeling of disappointment in the clubhouse. Gaston nodded. ”We all feel it because he’s been close to many times,” he said.

Stieb has taken four no-hitters into the ninth inning. He has thrown four one-hitters and four two-hitters in his 10-year career, and he pitched a one-hitter against the Yankees on April 10 this season. The only hit he permitted was Jamie Quirk’s fifth-inning single.

The right-hander said tonight’s failure could not be measured against the two near-no-hitters last season. On Sept. 24, he lost one when Julio Franco hit a single. Six days later, Jim Traber singled for Baltimore with two out in the ninth.

”No comparison,” Stieb said. ”I wasn’t as nervous or as high this time. There was such elated feelings and then such dejection. This doesn’t even come close.”

But he was close to perfection. In the seventh, he retired Sax on a fly ball and Polonia and Don Mattingly on grounders to second. In the eighth, he struck out Mel Hall and Barfield, then got Geren on a ground ball to short. In the ninth, Morris and Phelps went down swinging.

Kelly, though, prevented this team from being the first Yankee team ever victimized by a perfect game. It would have also been the first to be no-hit since Hoyt Wilhelm of Baltimore did it in 1958.

”It’s a tough situation for a guy,” Mattingly said of Stieb. ”He was probably nervous. We need to get a hit, and he’s probably nervous about getting the out.”

Yes, Stieb said, he thought about the moment – about getting another chance to throw a no-hitter – as he walked to the mound in the ninth and the crowd cheered.

”How can you not?” he asked. ”Your first nature is to get the first guy out. If you don’t get him, you’re not going to get the no-hitter. Then you want to get the next hitter and the next hitter.”

But it did not happen. Stieb shrugged once more.

”The results were the same,” he finally said.

The victory last night by Dave Stieb marked the third time in less than a year he had gone eight and two-thirds innings without giving up a hit.

He also allowed only one hit in his second start this season, giving him three-one hitters over four starts:

Sept 24, 1988, at Cleveland – With two out in ninth, Julio Franco hits bad-hop single over second.

Sept. 30, 1988, at home vs. Baltimore – With two out in ninth, Jim Traber hits broken-bat single in Stieb’s final start of season.

April 10, 1989, at New York – Jamie Quirk singles to center in fifth.

And a postscript: in 1988, there had been eight pitchers who carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning without completing it, including Ron Robinson of the Reds giving up a single by Wallace Johnson of the Expos with two out in the ninth on May 2 to erase the chance of a perfect game. Along with Tom Browning’s perfect game that September vs. the Dodgers, it would have made Cincinnati the only mlb team to have two perfect games in one year.

Published in: on January 23, 2011 at 12:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As recently as the late ’80’s, baseball players still tried a lot harder to protect the plate and to put the bat on the ball than they do today. I believe that may have had something to do with the many near no-hitters that year. Today, there just isn’t any stigma against striking out and just taking your hacks. I think that attitude probably leads to more no-hitters.
    Interesting post, Bill (The On Deck Circle)

  2. Good post. The game was leaning that way at that time, despite steroid era. The very next two years had 7 no-hitters each. I hear of 1990 sometimes referred to as a year of the pitcher, though I don’t know what overall offense is compared to before and after.

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