Yes…no-hitters when least expected

My relationship with no-hitters is, ah, unusual. I’ve seen five…four in doubleheaders. For one, I was late arriving and didn’t know it was a no-hitter until it was almost over. For another, I was on my vacation and wrote a story about it anyway. For another, I was a batboy. For another, I missed the obvious angle to the story.

The authors of “my” no-hitters were Rick Masterman, Joe Horlen, Bill Stoneman, Larry Dierker and Charlie Lea. Not exactly a Hall of Fame starting rotation, is it? I covered games Nolan Ryan pitched with Houston and managed to miss all of his seven no-hitters. The five I did see were unexpected, or incomprehensible. In other words, I didn’t go to the ballpark expecting to see a no-hitter, and neither did anybody else.

Masterman was pitching for the Winnipeg Goldeyes when thunder struck. At 21, he’d been drafted by St. Louis and his second-game, seven-inning no-hitter was surely the highlight of his minor-league career. From my batboy’s seat in the dugout, I could’ve said he no-hit some future major leaguers, and while he did face two St. Cloud Rox hitters named Davis, neither was Willie nor Tommie. The revered Branch Rickey called Masterman “a base on balls pitcher.”

Yet Masterman only whetted my appetite. When No. 2 came along, I was vacationing in Chicago, visiting another Goldeyes player (and friend), Walt Williams. I was then a sportswriter and, vacation or not, I convinced somebody I belonged in the press box. After Joe Horlen no-hit Detroit during a crazy pennant race, I thought it was worth sharing that with Winnipeg Tribune readers. “If they hadn’t chased so many bad pitches,” Horlen told me, “I would’ve walked quite a few.” Two walks spoiled his perfect game.

Five years later, I witnessed the only no-hitter at Jarry Park in Montreal. Well, part of it. My wife and I had moved to Montreal four days earlier and Paul Henderson was still dominating sports headlines for his dramatic goal to win the Canada-Russia hockey series. Late for that Expos’ doubleheader, we watched two innings before realizing Bill Stoneman’s second no-hitter was in progress, It was the 183rd of an all-time list now at 318 and we almost missed knowing.

In 1976, Houston’s Larry Dierker became the first pitcher to no-hit the Expos, 6-0 in the Astrodome. Dierker was a serviceable pitcher who was coming off arm problems and that night needed some sterling defence from the Astros to stifle what was arguably the worst of all Expos teams. The hitters who gave Dieter anxious moments were such sluggers as Pepe Mangual, Mike Jorgensen and Jim Lyttle. Said Dierker: “It really was a gift from God.”

Charlie Lea pitched the first no-hitter at Olympic Stadium, Jarry Park’s successor. He beat San Francisco 4-0 on a Sunday afternoon in May, in another doubleheader. “No one would have thought he’d do it,” said his catcher, Gary Carter. Having recently emerged from the minors and then the bullpen, Lea agreed. But this was Mothers Day, and only Hall of Fame baseball writer Bob Elliott (then with the Ottawa Citizen) had the foresight to phone Charlie’s mother.

You could say I was a victim of a no-hitter.