It was a few minutes after Atlanta Brave lefthander Kent Mercker had pitched the first no-hitter of the 1994 season, a 6-0 gem last Friday night at Dodger Stadium. Joe Simpson, a telecaster for the Braves' superstation, TBS, snagged him for an interview. "So, Joe," Mercker asked, with a laugh, "who's the star of the game?"
Mercker was the Atlanta starter least likely to make history in a rotation that features the Fab Four: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery. But Mercker now has one no-hitter and a share of another—three Brave pitchers combined for that one in 1991—in 12 major league starts, compared with zero in 762 starts by the Fab Four.
Never mind that Mercker, 26, had never pitched longer than six innings in a major league game before last Friday (that's how many he lasted as the starter in the '91 no-hitter) or that his next turn in the rotation will be skipped because Atlanta's schedule this week included an off-day. In a remarkable first week of the baseball season—filled daily with unlikely heroes and headlines—it was fitting that an un-imposing fifth starter was the biggest star.
Still, Mercker wasn't encouraging talk of a possible Fab Five. "Hey, they are the Fab Four," he said after finding the latest issue of Baseball America, with his four rotation mates on the cover, hanging in his locker after the no-hitter. "That's all right with me. They've got all the pressure. Tonight would have been a mediocre game for them."
Hardly. Relying on a 90-mph fastball and a much-improved changeup, Mercker dominated Dodger batters, striking out 10 (including Mike Piazza three times) and retiring the last 11 hitters in order.
Two terrific defensive plays by third baseman Terry Pendleton in the second inning and a diving catch by centerfielder Deion Sanders in the fifth preserved the no-no. Mercker also got a break in the sixth, when second baseman Mark Lemke, covering second on a steal attempt, ran right into the path of an Eric Karros line drive that otherwise would have gone into center for a single.
"See, a no-hitter is luck," Mercker said. "If it was skill, how many would Tom Glavine have?" Nevertheless Mercker became the first Brave to throw a complete game no-hitter since Phil Niekro in 1973 and the first Atlanta lefty to do it since Warren Spahn in '61. The Brave coaches toasted Mercker after the game with champagne in paper cups. "The Fab Four," said bullpen coach Ned Yost, "is in awe tonight."
After the game, said Mercker, he "watched CNN Headline Sports at 20 and 50 minutes past the hour for seven hours...same highlights." The next day he received 38 phone messages on the voice mail at his hotel. "I must be too stupid, but to me it's not a big deal," he said. "It's a privilege for me to be on this team." Indeed, the Braves were the last unbeaten club (7-0) in the majors at week's end.
But Mercker wasn't the only humble servant of the game to dominate highlight films, as evidenced by the following Monday-through-Sunday account of a wonderfully wacky first week of the season.
Monday: The Colossus of Rhodes