Archive for Monday, April 29, 2002

No-hitter, near no-nos highlight wild weekend

April 29, 2002

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From Fenway Park to Wrigley Field, at Shea Stadium and in Seattle, fans all around the majors were captivated this weekend by the high drama of low-hit pitching.

With one no-hitter and four near misses, it seemed as if every few minutes the TV broadcast of one game was interrupted to cut to another for a no-hit update.

Not even Nolan Ryan, who tossed a record seven no-hitters in his brilliant 27-year career, could have imagined this.

"I can't figure it. I mean, if you had Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux all pitching on the same day, then maybe you could explain it," said Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, who threw a no-hitter for the Cincinnati Reds and is now an analyst on New York Mets' telecasts.

"When you look at the trend in baseball the last few years, the way hitting and scoring and offense are up, what's happening this weekend is an aberration," Seaver said. "But, I like to see it."

Pitchers are always ahead of the hitters in April, the old saying goes. Still, this was a little extreme.

In a remarkable two-day span, five starters held opponents hitless into at least the seventh inning, although only Boston's Derek Lowe finished the job.

"I was rooting for him. Good for him," said Florida's A.J. Burnett, who pitched his own no-hitter last year and watched the final three outs of Lowe's no-no in the Marlins' clubhouse. "It's an awesome feeling."

And these masterpieces on the mound weren't crafted by All-Star aces such as Clemens or Johnson, although both The Rocket and The Big Unit won easily Friday night.

No, the top performances were turned in by No. 3 starters such as Odalis Perez and Pedro Astacio. They came from a converted closer, a spot starter and the often-erratic left arm of Shawn Estes.

Lowe, a bust out of the bullpen last season, pitched Fenway's first no-hitter since 1965 and the first in the majors this season, leading the Red Sox over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 10-0 Saturday.

"I'm such a huge golf guy. I was thinking Tiger Woods in the Masters finish the deal," Lowe said. "That's what I kept telling myself you've got to finish it."

In the end, he was the only guy who did.

Perez and Estes flirted with perfection Friday. Astacio shut down Milwaukee for 6 1/3 innings Saturday afternoon. And Yankees lefty Ted Lilly took perhaps the most unlikely gem into the eighth against Seattle on Saturday night.

Just hours after Lowe's no-hitter ended, Lilly's bid brought back memories of that incredible summer night in 1990, the only time in modern major league history that two no-hitters were thrown in one day.

On June 29 of that year, Oakland's Dave Stewart beat Toronto 5-0, and Dodgers lefty Fernando Valenzuela shut out St. Louis 6-0.

Lilly learned of Lowe's no-hitter from Clemens.

"On the way over, Roger told me on the bus. I was kind of thinking to myself, 'That would be kind of fun,"' Lilly said. "I went at it today with everything I had and came up a little short. Obviously, I'm disappointed."

Pitching in place of injured Andy Pettitte, the 26-year-old Lilly never had gone more than seven innings as a starter.

He eventually lost not only his no-hit bid, but the game, too, as Freddy Garcia and Kazuhiro Sasaki combined to shut out New York.

Desi Relaford singled on a 2-2 pitch with one out in the eighth, driving in the game's only run and giving the Mariners their lone hit in a 1-0 victory.

"One hit over eight innings and lost the game. Our guys hung in there," Seattle manager Lou Piniella said.

Perez was perfect for six innings as Los Angeles beat the Chicago Cubs 10-0 Friday at Wrigley, but he wound up with a one-hitter after speedy Corey Patterson beat out a bad-hop infield single leading off the seventh.

Chris Stynes then hit into a double play, Sammy Sosa grounded out to end the inning and Perez set the Cubs down in order in the eighth and ninth to face the minimum 27 batters in his first career shutout.

"It's a bad hop from being a perfect game," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said.

Estes, seeking the first no-hitter in New York Mets history, gave up a clean single to Eric Young leading off the seventh inning of a 1-0 win over the Brewers on Friday night.

The only other runner Estes allowed was a two-out walk to Jose Hernandez in the eighth.

"It doesn't get any better than that," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "It gets one pitch better than that, maybe."

The Mets, who have played 6,375 games in 41 seasons, are among only five teams that have never thrown a no-hitter. The others are San Diego, Colorado, Arizona and Tampa Bay.

Estes, who watched Perez's one-hitter in the clubhouse, was getting ready to bat in the fifth when the Shea Stadium scoreboard flashed that he pitched four no-hitters in high school.

"You're not supposed to do that. Isn't that a jinx?" Estes said.

Astacio made another bid for the Mets the next afternoon, holding Milwaukee hitless until Geoff Jenkins lined a single to left with one out in the seventh. New York held on for a 2-1 win.

"I thought maybe this could be the day," Estes said after Astacio's performance. "I told (pitching coach) Charlie Hough before the game that it's going to happen this year. We've got guys who are capable of doing it."

This weekend, it seemed as if everybody did.

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