There were no champagne celebrations Wednesday night in the Atlanta Braves’ clubhouse. There was no back-slapping, shouting or even much laughter.
If one didn’t know any better, you would have thought the Braves’ 1-0 victory over the San Diego Padres at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was nothing more than a well-pitched game.
Is this the way you are supposed to act when you pitch the first combined no-hitter in National League history?
The trio of Kent Mercker, Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena combined for the first Braves’ no-hitter since Phil Niekro pitched one against the Padres on Aug. 5, 1973.
It was the seventh no-hitter this season in the major leagues and the seventh combined no-hitter in major league history. And it came compliments of what must be considered a generous decision by official scorer Mark Fredrickson on Darrin Jackson’s ground ball in the ninth inning.
Think the Braves acted rather nonchalant about the feat?
When Brave left fielder Otis Nixon caught Tony Gwynn’s fly ball for the final out, he ran toward the dugout, looked up at the cheering crowd of 20,477 and flipped the ball into the stands.
His teammates watched in disbelief. Nixon shrugged sheepishly. Soon, there were the Braves--trading bats, balls and everything else they could find to the fan to please return the historic ball.
Once the ball was safely in the clubhouse, it found its way to Pena’s locker and was mounted on his top shelf with an inscription:
Not only was there no mention of a no-hitter, but the ball was sitting alongside three others from Pena’s other saves since joining the Braves on Aug. 28 from the New York Mets.
It was another day in the life of the Braves. Atlanta has been going bonkers for two months, even publishing the standings on the front page of the daily newspapers.
Never have the Braves been more confident that they can become the first team in National League history to go from last place to first in a season. Now, the Braves have won another group of believers.
“When a team puts it all together,” Padre Manager Greg Riddoch said, “special things happen. I think you’re seeing that now.”
But without Fredrickson’s ruling, the game might have been a mere shutout.
The Padres, whose only real threat had come on Fred McGriff’s fly to the warning track in the seventh inning, entered the ninth facing Pena.
Pinch-hitter Bip Roberts opened by meekly grounding to second base. Tony Fernandez flied to left field. Now it was left to Jackson.
Pena got ahead 0 and 2 and threw another fastball on the outside of the plate. Jackson hit a high chopper toward shortstop Rafael Belliard. Third baseman Terry Pendleton stepped in front of Belliard and was set to field the ball, but lost it in the lights.
The ball bounced off the end of Belliard’s glove and bounced away. The crowd groaned. Pena cursed under his breath.
But in seconds, the scoring call was shown on the center-field scoreboard:
The crowd let out a tremendous cheer, and Pena went back to work.
Gwynn, the Padres’ four-time batting champion, took the first pitch for a strike. The second pitch was hit into left field, where Nixon camped under it and caught it. The crowd screamed.
Gwynn trudged back to the dugout, immediately realizing the irony. His brother, Dodger outfielder Chris Gwynn, made the final out in Montreal Expo pitcher Dennis Martinez’s perfect game in July.
“Now I know how my brother feels,” Gwynn said. “It stinks. It’s a lousy feeling.”
Said Pena: “When you’re in that situation, the hitters are more nervous than you are. I just threw fastballs, and no matter where I threw them, they were swinging.
“It made it nice.”
But did the Padres really get a hit with Jackson’s bouncer--or was that a legitimate error?
“It was an error. It was an error all the way,” Pendleton said. “E-5, baby.”
Pendleton then started giggling and asked if the official scorer was present. When informed he was, Pendleton wanted to make sure the call would not be changed. He was assured it wouldn’t.
“I just missed it,” he said. “I lost it in the lights. I reached for it and just lost it.”
He then looked at Fredrickson, shrugged his shoulders, and said: “Sorry. Just telling the truth.”
When told of Pendleton’s confession, Jackson said: “That’s not good. He (Fredrickson) heard it and still didn’t change it. Hey, when you have guys making up their own rules, there’s not much you can say.”
Gwynn interrupted and said: “Really, it’s simple. It’s an error when there are two outs in the ninth inning.”
No matter. The Braves weren’t going to allow a little controversy to spoil their evening, which included Pendleton’s 20th homer, a solo shot in the fifth inning off Padre starter Greg Harris.
Mercker, making the third start of his career, departed with his no-hitter intact. For six innings, he threw fastball after fastball past the Padres, encountering problems only with two walks. Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox didn’t hesitate removing him from the game, and Mercker didn’t argue.
“I just wanted to win,” Cox said. “I wasn’t even thinking about a no-hitter until the ninth.”
Wohlers, who took over, said: “When the fans started booing, I was the one who felt like the bad guy.”
Mercker was already on his way to the trainers’ room and calmly watched the rest of the game on the clubhouse TV.
“Just another day at the ballpark, right,” he said, laughing.
He then paused, looked around, and said: “Hey, what are the Dodgers doing, anyway?”
No one seemed to care.
Combined No-Hitters Sept. 11, 1991: Atlanta 1, San Diego 0 Kent Mercker (6 innings), Mark Wohlers (2), Alejandro Pena (1) July 13, 1991: Baltimore 2, Oakland 0 Bob Milacki (6 innings), Mike Flanagan (1), Mark Williamson (1), Gregg Olson (1) April 11, 1990: Angels 1, Seattle, 0 Mark Langston (7 innings), Mike Witt (2) July 28, 1976: Chicago 2, Oakland 1 John Odom (5 innings), Francisco Barrios (4) Sept. 28, 1975: Oakland 5, Angels 0 Vida Blue (5 innings), Glenn Abbott (1), Paul Lindblad (1), Rollie Fingers (2) April 30, 1967: Detroit 2, Baltimore 1 Steve Barber (8 2/3 innings), Stu Miller ( 1/3), pitching for Baltimore June 23, 1917: Boston 4, Washington 0 Babe Ruth (0 innings), Ernie Shore (9 innings) Ruth walked one batter, was ejected
(San Diego County Edition) No-Hitters Against the Padres
Date Pitchers Team Score June 12, 1970 Dock Ellis Pittsburgh 2-0 Sept. 2, 1972 Milt Pappas Chicago 8-0 Aug. 5, 1973 Phil Niekro Atlanta 9-0 Sept. 11, 1991 Kent Mercker (6 innings), Atlanta 1-0 Mark Wohlers (2) and Alejandro Pena (1)