(One more Sandy Koufax picture — former Mariner pitcher R.A. Dickey trotted over to pay his respects today in Mets camp as Koufax talk to Mets minor-league field coordinator Dickie Scott).
Some of you might remember the feature story I did last year on the 20th anniversary of one of the most brilliant — and agonizing — games in Mariner history. I’m referring to Brian Holman’s one-hitter against the Oakland A’s in 1990 in which he lost a perfect game with two outs in the ninth when Ken Phelps launched a home run.
One of my favorite quotes in the story was Holman telling me about his visceral reaction several hours later.
“About 4 in the morning, I stood up in my hotel room and yelled as loud as I could, “You’ve got to be kidding me!’ ” Holman said.
Former Mariner Brandon Morrow, now with the Toronto Blue Jays, would have been entitled to have a similar reaction on Aug. 8 of last year. Pitching against the Tampa Bay Rays in Toronto, Morrow had a no-hitter going with two outs in the ninth inning, before Evan Longoria dribbled a grounder the other way that trickled out of the glove of diving second baseman Aaron HIll, who had no play. The official scorer immediately — and correctly, in the judgment of most — ruled a hit. Morrow regrouped and struck out Dan Johnson to end the game — his 17th strikeout. He had walked two, and one batter reached on an error.
“I had great fastball and great slider, and then was locating both well,” Morrow told me the other day when I was in Jays camp in Dunedin, Florida. “That putaway slider was the best, probably, I’d ever had. I kept getting guys to swing at balls in the dirt.”
Here’s how he described Longoria’s hit to me: “It was a soft grounder through the right side. Longoria hit a fastball down, off the end, it was on the ground the whole way, the whole way, the whole way. Aaron Hill dove, and it just hit off his glove. But it was a hit.”
I asked him if that hit keeps him up at night. He is one of just four players since 2000 to lose a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth, the others being Armando Galarraga (last year’s botched call on a would-be perfect game against the Indians), Boston’s Curt Schilling against the A’s in 2007, and the Yankees’ Mike Mussina against the Red Sox in 2001 (also a perfect game bid).
“No, no. It doesn’t, like, haunt me in my sleep or anything,” Morrow said. “I was OK with it. I took solace in the fact it was my first shutout, first complete game, struck out 17 guys. It’s something I can draw on, definitely. Absolutely.”
Morrow’s one-hitter, by the way, is tied for the fourth-highest total of any nine-inning game since 1920 (regular season) on Bill James’ “Game Score,” a metric which rates the effectiveness of individual games. He scores a 100, tied with Randy Johnson’s perfect game of 2004. The three above him are Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game against Houston in 1998 (105), Nolan Ryan’s seventh and final no-hitter against Toronto in 1991 (101), and our friend Sandy Koufax’s perfect game against the Cubs in 1965 (101).
Then, today, while in Mets camp, R.A. Dickey reflected a bit on his own near no-hitter in 2010, which occurred just five days after Morrow’s masterpiece. Facing the Phillies at Citi Field in New York, Dickey threw a one-hit shutout in a 1-0 victory over Philadlephia. The lone hit by the Phillies, a lineup populated that night by hitters like Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino, was collected by the pitcher, Cole Hamels. It was a blooper to right in the sixth inning, and Dickey would say after the game, only half-joking,that if right fielder Jeff Francoeur had fired to first, they might have nailed Hamels and preserved the no-hitter. The Mets still have not had a no-hitter thrown by one of their pitchers in their 48-year history.
“I told somebody this after the game, it’s probably the only game my whole career, maybe, I threw a game without a regret,” Dickey told me today. “I gave a hit to the pitcher, Cole Hamels. When I threw it, it was a great knuckleball, a first-pitch knuckleball. He hit it off the end of the bat. That’s baseball. I don’t regret it. I threw it right, it felt right. He put the end of the barrel on it, and it found a hole. It was a good pitch.”
As with Morrow, it was the first shutout and first complete game of Dickey’s career, easing the pain of the lost no-no. It was deja vu for Dickey, who in April, while still in the minors at Triple-A Buffalo, gave up a hit to the first batter, then retired the next 27 in a row. To Dickey, who came up in May and established himself as one of the Mets’ top starters (earning a two-year contract), it’s testimony to how confounding a good knuckleball can be.
“You do it once, you can say, ‘Oh, he had a good day.’ You do it a few times, or two times, and you know there’s something more to it. I think that is a pitch that when you throw it consistently correct, it can wreak some havoc, which is what happened. There’s a place for it. But it’s hard to do.”
(Morrow photo by Associated Press)