Cincinnati Reds pitcher Ron Robinson was just one pitch from perfection Monday night against the Montreal Expos when he threw a lazy 2-and-2 curve to Wallace Johnson. The Montreal pinch-hitter lined a clean single to left field to end the dream, and Robinson needed relief to help the Reds hold on for a 3-2 victory over the Expos.
Robinson, who has never pitched a major league shutout, retired Mike Fitzgerald on a grounder to short to start the ninth, and got Tom Foley to fly out. He went to a 2-and-2 count on Johnson as a crowd of 35,266 stood and roared.
Johnson, a switch-hitter batting left-handed for pitcher Pascual Perez, then fouled off a pitch before lining a clean single to shallow left.
"I think if I get that curveball down, I could have gotten it," Robinson said. "But I got the curve up, and it was a base hit."
Robinson stomped the ground as he watched the soft liner land safely on the artificial turf well in front of charging left fielder Kal Daniels.
Coach Tommy Helms managed the Reds to their first victory in five games. Helms was substituting for Manager Pete Rose, who received a 30-day suspension Monday for shoving umpire Dave Pallone on Saturday night. Rose was at home after knee surgery earlier Monday.
"That's baseball," said Robinson, discussing the pitch to Johnson after the game. "That's what makes the game exciting."
Johnson slapped at the curve to produce the opposite-field single, his fourth hit in only 10 at-bats this season.
"It was a breaking ball, the same pitch he threw me for the first strike," Johnson said. "If I tried to pull that pitch, I would have hit a ground ball.
"I'm just what you consider a spray hitter. I hit it where it's pitched, if it's a strike."
Robinson's disappointment turned into a scare when the next batter, Tim Raines, lined a home run to right to cut the lead to 3-2. John Franco came on to get the final out for his fourth save.
"I'm really just glad to get the victory," said Robinson (2-2). "Nolan Ryan lost a no-hitter (this season) and didn't get the victory."
Robinson, who has 1 complete game in 40 career starts, struck out 3 in his longest outing in 5 starts this season.
The last perfect game was by the Angels' Mike Witt, a 1-0 victory over the Texas Rangers on the final day of the 1984 season.
Robinson, coming off arthroscopic elbow surgery last Oct. 6, had failed to go more than seven innings in his four previous starts and has never pitched a shutout. His previous best single-game effort was a 7-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1984.
Robinson, 26, was shifted from the bullpen to the starting rotation last season. He has a 28-19 career record and 128 relief appearances.
The last Red to pitch a no-hitter was Tom Seaver on June 16, 1978, when he beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-0.
Perez (3-3) gave up just five hits over eight innings.
Daniels hit a solo homer in the first, his fifth of the season and his first since April 10. Daniels also walked, stole second and scored on Eric Davis' 4th-inning single, the center fielder's first RBI in five games.
Rookie Chris Sabo led off the sixth with his fifth homer, and Perez's second pitch to Daniels, the next batter, brushed him back. Daniels walked toward the mound and both benches cleared, but there were no blows exchanged or players ejected.