Jun
11

A no-hitter most strange seven years later

By

Photo credit: Osamu Honda/AP

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.”

Categories : Days of Yore

24 Comments»

  1. Evan says:

    Aside from the eventual outcome, the thing that most bugged me from that game was when Posada swung on a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded against Munro. I don’t know why but that bothered me for a few days.

  2. Ivan says:

    I look back at that no-no and to be fair, I don’t think any of the yankee hitters ever face Wagner and hiss 100MPH heater before or Dotel at that time and Lidge or even Oswalt. Plus, 6 different pitchers with electric stuff who basically were pitching what a inning each. Tough spot.

    I remember how much heat those dudes were throwing that game.

    • MikeD says:

      Anyone else surprised that Billy Wagner was never given a shot as a starting pitcher? I’ve wondered if there was a bias against him because of his height. He’s listed at 5’10″, which means he’s probably an inch or so shorter than that. Teams like tall starters and I’m wondering if he was called up to fill a need in the pen, and then they just decided to leave him there because of his size and because he was incredibly effective.

      He was a starter throughout his minor league career, never relieving in a single game prior to turning him into a reliever on the MLB level. In 402 minor league innings as a starter, he surrendered an absurdly low 305 hits, while striking out nearly 500 batters. On one level, he pitched about 150 innings striking out more than 200. As a lefty who was known to hit 100mph even as a starter I don’t think I’d have been in too much of a rush to make him a reliever until I saw him fail as a starter. Imagine if the Yankees in the 70s decided to take another smallish lefty with an upper-90s fastball and kept him in the pen. Fortunately, they gave Guidry a shot.

  3. tc says:

    Dude, the typos.

    • 1) I don’t know how many times we’ve asked, but we’ll do it one more time. Email typo stuff. I’d just delete the comment, but I want everyone to again see. Do not bitch about typos in the comments.

      2) You couldn’t know this, but Ben wrote this on his BlackBerry. So considering that I’d say he did a damn good job avoiding typos.

  4. steve (different one) says:

    I remember George sent champagne over the visitor’s clubhouse. I also remember going the game the next day, which I believe was a Yankee win.

  5. BG says:

    I was at this game (my only no-hitter in person). It was awfully strange. Most of the people in the ballpark didn’t realize it was a no-hitter till the end.

  6. Templeton "Brendog" Peck says:

    it’s the race to draft (some guy) first overallnext year between the o’s and ‘stros. exciting stuff.

  7. Greg G. says:

    “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 involed with.”

    I didn’t see this game, but for some reason, that Torre quote stood out to me in reading the postgame articles.

  8. Steve H says:

    Thomas says:
    June 11, 2010 at 1:16 pm
    The thing I always found interesting about that is how is is “embarrassing” that it was done by six pitchers.

    However, six pitchers is one of the exact reason it is less impressive. By changing pitchers frequently, no one ever really tires. Thus, if all the pitchers are having good days (which is rare, but less rare than one pitcher being no-hitter good), it is possible to get the no-no.

    While I would have expected the Yanks to get a hit of off Saarloos or Munro (in the combined 4 innings they pitched), I would not find it all that surprising for the Astros to get 5 innings of no-hit ball split over Oswalt, Lidge, Dotel, and Wagner (at least compared to getting no-hit by Oswalt for 5 innings).

    Getting no hit by 6 pitchers is obviously bizarre, I think it is less embarrassing than getting no-hit by one pitcher or even a combination of 2.

    Stole that from the off-topic thread as it’s now on topic and a very good point. Lidge, Dotel, and Wagner at the back of the pen is absolutely nasty. Like the 2nd coming of the Nasty Boys.

  9. MikeD says:

    This game from 2003 should not be recognized as a no-hitter. I’m not saying that because it was pitched against the Yankees. A no-hitter is a term that should be reserved for a single starting pitcher, not a collective. Years ago MLB cleaned the record book of dozens of no-hitters, defining specific rules for what qualifies for the record books. They should update it to eliminate collective no-hitters. The Yankees still didn’t get a hit om the game, but it should be removed as an official “no hitter.”

  10. Joe says:

    “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 ”

    Dotel struck out 4 in the eighth. The only way that’s possible is if one of those strikeouts resulted in the Yanks batter reaching base.

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