His no-hitter, a 7-1 win over the California Angels, was no less fitful. Cowley walked seven batters, including the first three in the sixth inning. In all, he threw 69 strikes and 69 balls. "Cowley had full counts on nearly every hitter," says Jim Fregosi, his manager, "I almost yanked him five different times. I'll tell you, I've never seen an uglier no-hitter."
That night Fregosi and his wife were out dining when a waiter brought them a complimentary bottle of Dom P�rignon.
"Who's it from?" asked Fregosi.
"Joe Cowley," said the waiter.
"Better send it back," said Fregosi. "He'll need the money."
The Sox unloaded Cowley in spring training of '87 for Phillie outfielder Gary Redus. "We thought we made a hell of a trade," says Bill Giles, the Phillies' president. "Everybody we talked to thought Cowley would be great. We handed him a spot in the rotation."
Cowley lost his grip in his very first inning as a Phillie—a three-hit, four-walk, seven-run disaster against the Chicago Cubs. More disasters followed. In five games he was 0-4 with a 15.43 ERA. In a mere 11? innings of work, he had surrendered 21 hits and 17 walks. "It was like a voodoo curse," Cowley says in a choked voice. "My control was near perfect in practice, but against live hitters I couldn't put the ball over the plate. I don't know if it was my shoulder, the manager, the coaches, the hecklers. I wanted to do so well, but it was beyond my control. Isn't that something? Beyond my control."
His coaches fussed like old birds. Straighten up, they said; apply yourself. Junk your cut fastball, they said; throw your sinker. But their advice didn't make a dent. "I threw and I threw and I threw, and nothing ever turned out right," Cowley says. "Every game had the same result. I guess I had Steve Blass disease." Blass, the hero of the 1971 World Series, won 19 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in '72 before he lost his control and walked his way out of baseball in '74.
So what did happen to Cowley?
Giles says, "The fans just booed the hell out of Joe. He'd throw pitches over the backstop, and they'd razz him unmercifully. He couldn't take it. He was scared to go out there."