Last week, the unique baseball season provided us with yet another oddity.
Last Monday night, St. Louis Cardinals rookie pitcher Daniel Poncedeleon (one of the great all-time baseball names) pitched seven no-hit innings against the Cincinnati Reds in his major league debut, before being pulled after throwing 116 pitches. Poncedeleon’s amazing performance capped an incredible story, as it came just 14 months after he underwent brain surgery following taking a line drive off the skull in a minor league game.
Incredibly, the following night, another Cardinals rookie, Austin Gomber, no-hit the Reds for six innings, before the game was halted when the fire alarm at Cincy’s Great American Ballpark went off. The 8-minute delay undoubtedly disrupted Gomber’s focus and he lost the no-no when play resumed.
It was an amazing two days, which brought to mind the closest a pitcher making his major league debut has ever come to tossing a no-hitter. It was 51 years ago. On April 14, 1967, Boston Red Sox lefthander, Billy Rohr, made his first big league start against the New York Yankees in the team’s third game of the season. The opposing pitcher that day was Hall of Famer to be Whitey Ford.
Rohr retired the first 10 Yankees hitters in order. He walked two in the fourth inning, but sailed along through the eighth inning, enduring a grounder off the shin in the sixth.
Rohr retired Tom Tresh and Joe Pepitone to start the ninth. He was one out away from history. Yankees catcher Elston Howard stepped to the plate. He was the league’s MVP in 1963. With a count of 1 ball and 2 strikes, Rohr threw what he – and many others – thought was a called strike three. The pitch was called a ball. Howard worked the count to 3 and 2. One pitch away. Rohr hung a curveball that Howard smacked into right field for a single. No third strike call. No no-hitter. No. No. No.
Rohr became an instant celebrity, appearing on the Ed Sullivan show and others in the days that followed. His magical performance was a symbol of the Red Sox magical ’67 season when they won the A.L. and went to the World Series.
Shoulder problems forced an early exit from the game in 1972. Still, his performance on that April day in 1967 made him somewhat of a Red Sox legend.
51 years later, and among the more than 216,000 games played in major league history, Rohr is the pitcher who has come closest to a no-hitter in his big league debut, and a target for the Daniel Poncedeleons and Austin Gombers of the future.
*You can find hundreds of fun sports facts in my new book, The Average Joe’s Super Sports Almanac: https://steveriach.com/products/the-average-joes-super-sports-almanac