With Two Out in the Ninth: The Almost No-Hitters

This article was written by Keith Sutton

This article was published in 1983 Baseball Research Journal

On April 15, 1983, pitcher Mitt Wilcox of the Detroit Tigers came within one out of a perfect game when pinch hitter Jerry Hairston  of the White Sox, batting for shortstop Jerry Dybzinski, hit a clean single through the middle with two down in the ninth inning. Imagine the deep disappointment for hurler Wilcox, who retired 26 batters in a row, and for the Detroit team, which fielded flawlessly and supported him with four runs. The more than 19,000 fans in Comiskey Park undoubtedly had mixed feelings about the Honolulu native’s superbly pitched 4-0 victory over LaMarr Hoyt.

According to available information, there have been only two other occasions where hurlers came within one out of a perfect game (meaning no hits, walks, hit batsmen or errors). The first was on August 5, 1932, and that game also involved a Tiger hurler. Tommy Bridges, the great curve-ball hurler of the l930s, had a 13-0 lead over the Washington Senators, but he wasn’t coasting because he had a perfect game within his grasp. He had set down 26 straight batters, seven of them on strikes, and only five balls had been hit to the outfield. Washington manager Walter Johnson called on Dave Harris, the American League’s best pinch hitter in 1932, to bat for pitcher Bobby Burke, who two years before had hurled a no-hitter himself. Harris hit the first ball pitched to left field for a single and the spell was broken. The partisan Detroit crowd booed and continued to do so after the next batter, Sam Rice, was retired on a grounder.

Johnson was criticized for inserting a crafty pinch hitter like Harris in a hopelessly lost game, and Harris was booed for breaking up the string of outs. The latter’s response was to the effect that “a batter gets paid for hitting like a pitcher does for pitching.”

The second near-perfect game was on June 27, 1958, when Billy Pierce of the White Sox beat the Senators 3-0 at Chicago. Pierce went to two out in the ninth without a flaw, thanks to a spectacular play by shortstop Luis Aparicio in the fourth. He dashed behind second base to take a bouncer off the bat of Rocky Bridges and threw him out in a close play at first. In the ninth, Jim Lemon took three balls and a strike before flying out. Norm Zauchin then looked at a third strike. Ed FitzGerald came in to hit for pitcher Russ Kemmerer and rifled the first pitch down the right-field line for a double. When Albie Pearson fanned to end the game, the White Sox fans, who long admired Pierce, booed FitzGerald bitterly. Police took the precaution to go out to second base to escort him to the dugout.

In these three near-perfect games, involving three American League teams, all three batters breaking up the strings were pinch hitters swinging on the first delivery. Ironically, in all the other games where no-hitters were broken up with two out in the ninth, the spoiler was not a substitute batsman.

Research by SABR members has uncovered 25 other games which went down to the final batter before a no-hitter was spoiled. Two games are not carried on the accompanying list because they were not individual pitching efforts through 26 outs. On July 4, 1954, the pennant-winning Indians used three hurlers against the White Sox in a 2-1 victory. Mike Garcia, Ray Narleski, and Early Wynn worked the nine innings, with Wynn giving up a single to Minnie Minoso with two down in the final frame. Minnie then became the final out when he was thrown out stealing.

On April 18, 1964, Jim Maloney of the Reds, who was to hurl three no-hitters in his career, pitched six innings of hitless ball against the Dodgers before pulling a muscle in his side. John Tsitouris then took over and held the Dodgers in check until two were out in the ninth. Frank Howard then smashed the ball back of second base and beat the throw from shortstop Leo Cardenas. The Reds won 3-0 on Deron Johnson’s 3-run homer off Sandy Koufax.

In almost all of the games listed, the contest turned out to be a one-hit affair with the batter following the “spoiler” being routinely retired to end the game. It might be appropriate to describe briefly the rare exceptions, as well as some of the more interesting games.

On September 26, 1978, Mike Flanagan of the Orioles was pitching brilliantly with a 3-0 lead over the Indians. Then, with two down in the ninth, Gary Alexander suddenly blasted a home run. Then Ted Cox and Duane Kuiper followed with singles. In a twinkling, Flanagan had lost his no-hitter, a shut-out, and the tying run was at bat. Gone also was a complete game as manager Earl Weaver called in Don Stanhouse, who fanned the final batter and preserved a 3-1 victory.

Tom Seaver of the Mets, one of the greatest pitchers of his era, had great difficulty achieving a no-hit game. On July 9, 1969, he retired the first 25 batters in a victory over the Cubs before Jim Quails singled. On July 4, 1972, he again got one out in the ninth before Leron Lee of San Diego got the first hit. On September 4, 1975, he got two out in the ninth before Joe Wallis of the Cubs lined a single to right field. Seaver retired the next batter, but the Mets didn’t get him any runs. The game was scoreless after nine, and, although Tom gave up two hits in the 10th, the score remained at 0-0. Skip Lockwood took over in the 11th and lost it 1-0. Seaver finally achieved a no-hitter with the Reds in 1978.

Al Milnar of the Indians had a similar situation on August 11, 1942, when he was engaged in a scoreless duel with Tommy Bridges of the Tigers. Milnar did not give up a hit until Doe Cramer singled with two out in the ninth. The game continued without a run until called after 14 innings. The Cleveland lefty yielded only two hits over that stretch but got no decision.

Of the 26 individual hurlers who lost a no-hit game with only one batter remaining, nine were able to achieve a hitless gem at some other time in their careers. They included John Clarkson, Cy Young, Bob Rhoades, Nap Rucker, Jeff Tesreau, Dazzy Vance, Ted Lyons, Tom Seaver, and Ken Holtzman. John Odom had a shared no-hitter with Francisco Barrios in 1975. Speaking of Holtzman (who had two no-hitters with the Cubs), he came very close to a third career no-hitter while with Oakland on June 8, 1975. With one out remaining, Tom Veryzer of the Tigers lofted a long fly to A’s centerfielder Bill North, who briefly lost the ball in the sun and it dropped behind him for a double.

Grover Alexander, the greatest pitcher never to pitch a no-hitter, came as close as possible. On June 5, 1915, which was a year when he hurled a record four one-hitters for the Phils, Alex was pitching a masterful game against the Cardinals in St. Louis. There was nothing resembling a hit against him and it looked like nothing was going to stop him from a Hall of Fame performance. With two out in the ninth, Cardinal leadoff batter Arthur Butler lunged at a curve ball well off the plate and tapped it weakly back of second base, just barely out of reach of second baseman Bert Niehoff and shortstop Dave Bancroft. Alex then fanned Bob Bescher for the final out.

Billy Rohr of the Red Sox came very close to a no-hitter in his pitching debut April 14, 1967, in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees were held hitless down to the final out, and the young southpaw got that far thanks to a great catch by Carl Yastrzemski of a drive to left field by Tom Tresh to open the ninth. Rohr got the next batter, but with a 3-2 count on Elston Howard, the latter connected for a single. It was still a tremendous win for the rookie, who beat Whitey Ford 3-0. Ironically, Rohr won only two more games in his brief career.

Here is the list we were able to compile of individual pitchers who had no-hitters broken up with two out in the ninth inning. Asterisk indicates site of game. All spoiler hits were singles except for three doubles and one home run, which are so designated.


*Through the 1983 season

“Perfect Games”

Date of Game  Pitcher and Teams                    Score  Spoiler

8/5/32              Tommy Bridges, Det.* vs Was. AL   13-0    Dave Harris

6/28/58            Billy Pierce. Chi.* vs Was. AL          3-0       Ed FitzGerald (D)

4/15/83            Milt Wilcox, DeL vs Chi.t AL           6-0       Jerry Hairston


Other Near No-Hitters

5/26/92            John Clarkson, Bos.* vs Lou. NL      7-0       Hugh Jennings

7/23/96            Cy Young, Cle.* vs Phi. NL               7-0       Ed Delahanty

9/9/99              Doc McJames, Bkn.* vs Bos. NL      4-0       Hugh Duffy

9/27/04            Bob Rhoades, Cle. vs Bos. AL           3-1       Chick Stahl

7/22/11            Nap Rucker, Bkn.  vs Cin. NL           1-0       Bob Bescher

5/16/14            Jeff Tesreau, NY vs Pit.* NL             2-0       Joe Kelly

4/14/15            Herb Pennock, Phi.* vs Bos. AL        2-0       Harry Hooper

6/5/15              Gr. Alexander, Phi. vs StL* NL         3-0       Arthur Butler

8/16/15 (2)      Bernie Boland, Det. vs Cle.* AL        3-1       Ben Paschal

5/6/18              Dan Griner, Bkn.* vs Phi. NL            2-0       Cliff Cravath

6/17/23            Dazzy Vance, Bkn. vs Cin.* NL        9-0       Sammy Bohne

9/19/25            Ted Lyons, Chi. vs Was.* AL            17-0     Bobby Veach

6/13/33            Whitlow Wyatt CM.* vs StL AL       6-1       Tedd Gullic

8/11/42            Al Milnar, Cle.* vs Det. AL               0-0       Doc Cramer

7/8/43              Orval Grove, Chi.* vs NY AL           1-0       Joe Gordon (D)

4/26/52            Art Houtteman, Det.* vs Cle. AL       13-0     Harry Simpson

4/14/67            Billy Rohr, Bos. vs NY* AL              3-0       Elston Howard

6/7/68              John Odom, Oak.* vs Bal. AL           6-1       Dave Johnson

8/21/73            Stan Bahnsen, Chi. vs Cle.* AL         4-0       Walt Williams

6/8/75              Ken Holtzman, Oak.* vs Det. AL      4-0       Tom Veryzer (D)

9/24/75            Tom Seaver, NY vs Chi.* NL            0-0       Joe Wallis

9/26/78            Mike Flanagan, Bal.* vs Cle. AL       3-1       G. Alexander (HR)

9/23/83            Chuck Rainey, Chi.* vs Cm. NL        3-0       Eddie Milner

*Assisted by Paul MacFarlane