No-Hitter Means No Holds Barred

Nolan Ryan has thrown seven of them. Sandy Koufax had four. Bob Feller had three.

But, Bill Stoneman had two. So did Steve Busby. The Forsch family had three. Bob Forsch threw two and brother Ken had the other.

Lefty Grove never threw one. Neither did Robin Roberts. Dizzy Dean never had one, but his brother, Paul, did. Grover Cleveland Alexander won 373 games, but none of them was a no-hitter. Walter Johnson won 416 games, but only one was a no-hitter.

Lots of great pitchers could never put one together. Whitey Ford, for example. Don Drysdale. A no-hitter is baseball’s ultimate caprice. Bob Gibson threw an 89-pitch no-hitter once. Other pitchers have stumbled to their no-hitters with as many as 11 walks.

Bobo Holloman threw a no-hitter--and won only two other games in his career (which lasted 10 games). Pitcher Mike Warren threw a no-hitter in a career in which he won eight other games and lost 13. Bill Stoneman sandwiched his no-hitters in a career in which he won 54 and lost 85.


Still, a pitcher always hankers to put a no-hitter on his resume.

You probably have those days at the office when everything goes right. It’s a situation where you can’t seem to make a mistake--but, when you try to remember how you did it, you can’t.

A pitcher in a no-hit game has to have a sense of power and command of a guy on a bombing run against a helpless target. Golfers and tennis players refer to it as being “in the zone,” a semi-out-of-body experience in which the body takes over like the instrument panel of an aircraft in a thick fog.

When Kevin Gross threw his no-hitter recently for the Dodgers, he fit the profile so perfectly, he might have gone into the game as a bookie’s choice. Veteran pitcher, good stuff, uncertain record (95-112 the night he took the mound).

It was only the third complete game Kevin Gross has pitched this year and only his 32nd lifetime, but that, too, fits the profile of the no-hit pitcher.

A no-hit game really begins in the seventh inning. It’s when the ballpark falls silent, fielders begin to twitch between outs, scratching diagrams in the dirt with their cleats, staring into their gloves as if there were answers there.

Batters come up to the plate with new intensity. There is a notion in some circles that a batter comes up in the late throes of a no-hit game with mixed emotions. Years ago, a popular Detroit pitcher named Tommy Bridges was throwing a no-hitter when, with two out in the bottom of the ninth, the rival manager sent up one of the premier pinch-hitters, Sheriff Dave Harris, who promptly hit a single to right. Controversy raged for months as to whether this was sporting, whether this was an unfair overload. The game, as it is remembered, was out of hand. The rational consensus was, a no-hit game should be played like any other. The pitcher should earn it. “I’d send Hornsby up if I’d had him,” the aggrieved manager, Joe Cronin, was to say of the Bridges-Harris incident.

Kevin Gross agrees that there is no quarter given. A batter regards a no-hit game as an insult to the team. “You know each guy is coming up there with one idea--break up the no-hitter,” Gross says. “You can see it in the eyes. Each guy would like to be the one who breaks it up. They want to make you earn that no-hitter. They don’t want you to get it at their expense.”

This, he says, is both a good and a bad thing. Any pitcher likes to have a batter straining. Makes them easier to fool.

The trouble is, by now the pitcher is straining, too. “I had good stuff warming up that night. I had a good fastball and I was getting my curve and changeup over. But I never even dreamt about a no-hitter. The thing is, with a no-hitter, in the late innings, you go with your best stuff. You don’t want to get hit in those situations with your second-line pitches.”

Gross jettisoned the changeup. He went with the curveball sparingly. “I had a good fastball that night. The thing about a fastball is, you sometimes lose velocity over the innings. Only Nolan Ryan is throwing harder in the eighth than he was in the first.”

It worked for Gross. His fastball hummed through nine innings. He maneuvered his no-hitter safely in the hangar.

Great pitchers, such as Carl Hubbell, get their first confidence from a no-hitter. He was 10-6 when he threw his and went from there to the Hall of Fame. Kevin Gross has no such grand illusions. But, look at it this way: he is only six no-hitters behind Nolan Ryan, and he is even with Walter Johnson. And he’s ahead of Grover Cleveland Alexander. For 2 hours 25 minutes, he was the season’s best.