Once upon a time, the best team in the American League — the team destined for a first place finish, a classic ALCS and, unfortunately, a disappointing World Series loss — found itself no-hit by a motley bunch of Houston Astros. Now, these Astros were no schlubs. After all, they entered the game 36-28, in first in NL Central, just half a game worse than the Yanks. Plus, as Dallas Braden and countless others have shown, no-hitters can come from the unlikeliest of unlikely pitchers. But this nine-inning effort was unique in that it took six pitchers, each throwing harder than the last.
On paper, the original pitching match-up looked every bit the lopsided affair this game would turn out to be. Astros’ ace Roy Oswalt would face off against the Yanks’ Jeff Weaver in one of those painfully unexciting Interleague games that have come to dominate the mid-June schedule. Weaver, as was his pinstriped wont, had nothing from the start, and Oswalt had everthing. The Astros took a 1-0 lead after a Craig Biggio leadoff double, a flyball and a wild pitch, and Oswalt struck out Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi.
And then the Yanks caught a break. Oswalt left the game with a groin injury, and the Yanks could feast on 8 innings of bullpen work. Even with Jeff Weaver on the mound, the Yanks had 24 outs against pitchers not as good as Oswalt.
The break, it turned out, was anything but. Peter Munro took over for Oswalt and was effectively wild. He walked three — the only three Yanks to reach base — and struck out two in 2.2 innings of work. Kirk Saarloos took the ball for 1.1 hitless innings, and then the Astros brought the heat.
Over the final four innings of the game, the Yanks had to face Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner, each throwing harder than the last. The trio combined for eight strike outs over the final 12 outs of the game, and the game ended when Hideki Matsui grounded out to first. No runs, no hits.
Overall, the Astros’ pitching line was one for ages. 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 13 K. What made it confounding, though, was the sheer number of pitchers the Astros used. Houston seemed even more confused than New York. “I kind of expected him to hug me,” Billy Wagner said after the game, referring to first baseman Jeff Bagwell. “It was kind of a weird situation.”
Weird indeed. The 2003 Astros became the first team to use six pitchers in a single no-hitter, and the Yanks, who hadn’t been on the wrong end of a no-hitter in decades over a span of 6980 games, found themselves in the record books for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes, you lose, and sometimes, you lose historically.
Tonight, the Astros return to the scene of the crime seven years and one new stadium later. Lidge, Dotel, and Wagner have moved on to greener pastures, and while Oswalt has stayed with Houston through thick and thin, the Astros are engaged in a race to the bottom with the Orioles. One team will be crowned worst in baseball four months for now.
For now, the Astros and Yanks will just have to look back on that odd June 11 no-hitter and laugh. “Whatever kind of history it was,” said then-manager Joe Torre at the time, “it was terrible. It was one of the worst games I’ve ever been involved with.”