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He Knows How to Throw a Party

It was a sleepy, balmy, ordinary Monday, nothing more. The Dodgers were dying to get out of last place. The Giants were dying to stay out of Florida. Kevin Gross was pitching for the home team and 25,561 cared enough to come watch.

Kevin’s month had been one of happy birthdays and unhappy workdays. Joshua Gross’s 10th birthday was Aug. 8. Chase Gross’ second birthday was a day later. And Tamara Gross, the pitcher’s wife, was having a birthday Monday, her 27th. She stayed home with the kids.

Kevin threw her a party anyway.

He threw her nine hitless, scoreless, breathless, peerless innings.

He threw her the eighth no-hitter by a Los Angeles Dodger pitcher.

He threw it for his mother, too, who gave birth to a baby boy in Downey 31 years ago this summer and was in the park Monday night for the highlight of his life.

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It was Kevin Gross’ party and he could cry if he wanted to. And he did.

Every dark baseball mitt does have a silver lining. Gross had lost three games in a row. The Dodgers had practically turned losing into an art form. They were so low in the National League West, they were nearly in Tijuana. They were on the verge of being swept by San Francisco in a four-game series at home for the first time in 69 seasons.

Gross needed good defense from a not very good defense.

He got it.

He needed a lucky break or two from a team that hadn’t had a break all season, much less two.

He got it.

He needed crowd support from a crowd that had once given him so little support, at one point last season, the pitcher gave them the back of his hand. Now he needed them to give him a hand.

He got it.

The suspense and excitement of a no-hitter in the making began to rumble through Chavez Ravine like an earth tremor after six innings, when all the sleeping Giants had to show for the night was a couple of free passes to first base.

They sent dangerous sticks to the plate in the seventh. Willie McGee, though, went out uneventfully, to first base unassisted.

Will Clark bluffed a bunt, wondering what he could do to extract himself from an 0-for-14 quagmire. The Dodgers’ Dave Hansen was so deep at third base that Clark might have stretched an accurate enough bunt into a double. But he swung away and popped to Hansen foul.

Gross reared back, fired strike three past Cory Snyder and the buzz was on.

Came the eighth inning, he jogged out to the hill. Was he nervous? Was this seasoned 31-year-old starting to feel as fluttery as a 21-year-old on a farm team? Maybe. When catcher Mike Scioscia accepted his first warm-up pitch, he may or may not remember now, Scioscia had to block it on the first hop.

Up came Robby Thompson.

Could it be? Could someone named Robby Thompson hit a shot heard ‘round Los Angeles against a pitcher for the Dodgers? Would they call it Kevin’s Bluff? Did life work that way?

No. Thompson ripped a liner, hooking toward left field.

And suddenly there stood Jose Offerman--poor, maligned, rookie shortstop Jose Offerman--squeezing the ball like it was delicate as an egg, after making a splendid leaping stab.

Gross thrust his fist into the sky. He was five outs away.

Matt Williams looked at a breaking-ball beauty with a two-strike count. The young umpire, Mike Winters, called it a ball. Gross winced. Then he threw exactly the same pitch in exactly the same place. Williams whiffed.

Kirt Manwaring took his cuts--sort of. He checked his swing on the first pitch and tapped it right back to Gross.

One inning to go. Gross was late emerging from the dugout for it, having run the bases in the bottom of the eighth. Was he tired? Were his 31-year-old legs wobbly? Maybe. But halfway out to the mound, after walking instead of running, he said the heck with it and loped the rest of the way.

This time, the warm-up pitches were fine. But when Mark Leonard pinch-hit for Mike Benjamin and had two strikes on him, Gross conked him in the knee.

Now he had to work from a stretch. But the first pitch was sharp, and Greg Litton swung and missed. The second pitch was better, and Litton took it for a strike. He weakly fouled one off to the right side.

Then he hit a frog-hopper up the middle, a break for the Dodgers. Litton might have beaten it out for a single. But with a man on base, Offerman forced Leonard at second.

Little Mike Felder took the first pitch low. Gross got the next two over and Felder then sliced one to left, which Mitch Webster gloved routinely. Two out.

Now McGee, one more time. All it took was one pitch for another fly to Webster and the first no-hitter in the majors this season.

Scioscia came rushing toward him, but to Gross: “He was just a big blur.”

Gross jumped up and down.

“My wife must be jumping up and down at home!” Gross said.

Why not? It was a party.


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