Bill Stoneman wasn’t intimidated by the Big Red Machine. On June 19, 1972, in his previous start against the powerhouse Reds, Stoneman tossed a stellar four-hit shutout in a 2-0 Montreal victory. Considering that the Expos had one of the weakest offenses in the major leagues, he needed to continue putting zeroes up on the scoreboard for his team to have a reasonable chance of knocking off Cincinnati in their September 1 encounter.
Stoneman, an original Expo, was the team’s 19th selection in the 1968 expansion draft. He had been used primarily in relief in the Cubs’ minor-league system, and he had a grand total of two big-league starts under his belt when he was nabbed by Montreal. The Expos’ decision to use him as a full-time starter paid immediate dividends, as Stoneman threw a stunning no-hitter against the Phillies on April 17, 1969, in what was only the ninth game in franchise history. He was a stabilizing force in the Expos’ starting rotation during their early years, averaging over 247 innings pitched between 1969 and 1972. “Stoney” enjoyed a career year in 1971, going 17-16 with a 3.15 ERA and racking up 251 strikeouts, the third-most in the National League. He continued to pitch well in 1972, earning a spot as the Expos’ sole representative in the All-Star Game.
Stoneman came into the September 1 Reds matchup with a 10-9 mark and a tidy 2.94 ERA. Cincinnati was playing great baseball, having won 14 of its last 18 games to pull seven games ahead of the Astros in the NL West standings. The Reds’ 78-46 record was the best in the major leagues, while Montreal sat in fifth place in the Eastern Division with a 57-65 mark.
The Cincinnati starter was 22-year-old Ross Grimsley (12-6, 2.65 ERA). The soft-tossing southpaw had been roughed up by Montreal in his major-league debut in May 1971, although he went on to post a respectable 3.57 ERA in his rookie season. After three years in Cincinnati and four more in Baltimore, Grimsley joined the Expos as a free agent in 1978, becoming the only 20-game winner in team history that season.1
The Reds’ leadoff hitter, Pete Rose, reached on an infield single in the bottom of the first inning. The hit was his 1,882nd in a Reds uniform, breaking Vada Pinson’s franchise record. Rose wrapped up his 24-year career with 3,358 hits for Cincinnati, a record that still stood in 2020.
The Reds looked as if they might break through against Stoneman early in the game. They had runners on second and third with nobody out in the first inning, and they loaded the bases with two out in the second. Stoneman escaped unscathed both times.
A dominant Grimsley pitched nine scoreless innings, permitting only one Expo to advance as far as second base. His only spot of trouble came in the fifth inning when Montreal had runners on first and second with one out, but he kept the game scoreless by retiring Clyde Mashore on a popup to first base and striking out the notoriously weak-hitting Stoneman.2 Grimsley surrendered only three singles and one walk in what was the best outing thus far in his young career.
Stoneman settled into a groove after his shaky start, and the game remained scoreless into extra innings. While Grimsley had been lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth, the Montreal workhorse remained in the game. Stoneman did yeoman’s work, limiting the Reds to two hits and three walks from the third inning to the 11th.
The Expos came close to breaking the scoreless tie in the 11th inning against reliever Clay Carroll. With runners on first and second and one out, Tim Foli lined a ball toward right-center field, only to have second baseman Joe Morgan make a leaping grab and double Boots Day off second base to end the inning.3
Stoneman returned to the mound for the 12th inning. César Gerónimo, pinch-hitting for the catcher Bill Plummer, led off with a single off the glove of second baseman Ron Hunt. After pinch-hitter Ted Uhlaender popped up his bunt attempt for the first out of the inning, “Charlie Hustle” came to the plate looking for his fourth hit of the game. Rose smacked a pitch from Stoneman off the center-field wall for a double that advanced Gerónimo to third base.
Montreal manager Gene Mauch had Morgan walked intentionally to load the bases with one out before calling for what Bob Hertzel of the Cincinnati Enquirer dubbed a “revolutionary” five-man infield, bringing Ken Singleton in from left field to third base and moving third baseman John Boccabella over to a spot between second base and first.4 The tactic worked exactly as planned, as the left-handed-hitting Bobby Tolan hit a groundball to Boccabella, who got the force out at home plate for out number two. It was the fifth time Mauch had used a five-man infield in 1972, but this was the first time it had paid off.
Johnny Bench, mired in a 0-for-14 slump, was the next batter. Bench had broken the little finger on his catching hand when he was hit by a Gary Gentry pitch on August 19, yet he continued to play in right field and at the corner infield positions while the finger healed.5 The struggling slugger tried to bunt Stoneman’s first offering for a hit that would have ended the game had the ball not rolled foul at the last moment. After fouling off four consecutive 3-and-2 pitches, Bench drove the ball off the left-center-field wall, giving the Reds a 1-0 walk-off victory. Bench’s RBI broke Stoneman’s scoreless streak against Cincinnati at 21⅔ innings, dating back to June 28, 1971.
Despite blanking the Big Red Machine for the first 11 innings, Stoneman was saddled with his 10th loss of the season. His 11⅔ innings on the hill set a franchise record for the most innings pitched in a game, a record that still stood in 2020.6
Just over a month later, Stoneman tossed a second no-hitter for the Expos. This one came against the New York Mets at Jarry Park for the first major-league no-hitter pitched outside of the United States. It was also the last complete game of Stoneman’s career, which ended abruptly in July 1974 at the tender age of 30 as a result of arm troubles. The 988⅔ innings pitched over a four-year period had taken their toll. “My last year and a half in the major leagues were awful,” recalled Stoneman. “I had hurt my shoulder and really never recovered. The power was gone from my arm. … It just was not a whole lot of fun going out there getting your brains beat out most of the time.”7
Bench returned to catching the next day and the Reds cruised to the NL West title, outdistancing the Dodgers and Astros by a whopping 10½ games. Cincinnati went on to win its second pennant in three years by defeating the Pirates three games to two in the NLCS before dropping the World Series in seven games to the Oakland Athletics. Three years later, the Reds won the first of two back-to-back World Series titles − their first since 1940.
The Expos’ anemic offense was blanked three more times in late September, giving them a league-worst 20 shutouts.8 Although they posted a mediocre 70-86 record, the season was not without its silver linings. On top of Stoneman’s no-hitter, they managed to avoid the NL East basement by finishing 11 games ahead of the woeful Phillies, and they won 12 more games than their expansion cousins, the San Diego Padres.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 Ross Grimsley went 20-11 with a 3.05 ERA with the Expos in 1978. He was named to the All-Star team for the only time in his career.
2 Bill Stoneman ended his career with an .086 batting average and an .098 slugging percentage over 338 at-bats.
3 “Stoneman Loses Pitchers’ Duel in 12th,” Montreal Gazette, September 2, 1972: 28.
4 Bob Hertzel, “Bench Breaks Slump, Expos, 1-0,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 2, 1972: 28.
5 Associated Press, “Bench’s Finger Broken,” New York Times, August 26, 1972: 18.
6 Steve Rogers came close to tying the franchise record when he tossed 11⅓ innings in an August 12, 1978, game against the Chicago Cubs. Rogers surrendered two runs in the top of the 12th inning, although the Expos rallied to win in 14 innings.
7 Bill Kirwin, “Interview with Bill Stoneman, General Manager, Anaheim Angels,” NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, vol. 10, no. 2 (2002): 172-176.
8 The Montreal Expos had a league-worst OPS+ of 78 in 1972. The Cincinnati Reds led the majors that season with an OPS+ of 107.