In this Year of the No-Hitter, it's only right that Toronto's Dave Stieb threw one. Three times in the previous two seasons, Stieb missed no-hitters with two out in the ninth inning. In 1988 he lost one on a bad-hop single by Cleveland's Julio Franco and another on a 110-foot bloop single by Baltimore's Jim Traber. Last year a clean double by the Yankees' Roberto Kelly cost Stieb not only a no-hitter but a perfect game as well.
But no last-second spoilers were in Cleveland on Sunday. Stieb tossed the first no-hitter in Toronto's history, beating the Indians 3-0. It was the ninth no-hitter of the season, extending a record. "Maybe it's not so tough to get one this year, that's why I got one," said Stieb.
The no-hitter improved Stieb's 1990 record to 17-5. No Blue Jay has ever won 18 games in a season. After Sunday's game, he said he had had better stuff in his near no-hitters. "It takes a lot of luck," said Stieb, who walked four and struck out nine against Cleveland. "That's exactly how I did it today."
There was something of a home-crowd atmosphere for the game. About 6,000 members of the Blue Jays' Fan Club were in the crowd of 23,640. As he stood on the mound after completing his gem, Stieb pointed up to the press box at free-lance writer Kevin Boland, who was the coauthor of Stieb's 1986 autobiography, Tomorrow I'll Be Perfect. Said Stieb later, "This was close enough to being perfect for me."
When Mississippi State manager Ron Polk would visit the mound to talk to his pitcher in the late innings of games in 1984-85, a ball would be thrown to rightfielder Bobby Thigpen so that he could loosen up with members of the bullpen. As soon as' Polk pointed toward rightfield, Thigpen would run to the mound, throw a bunch of fast-balls past overmatched hitters and pick up a save. A few things have changed. Thigpen doesn't play the outfield anymore, he warms up in the bullpen, and he has developed a pretty good breaking ball. But he still throws a bunch of fast-balls and still saves a lot of games. Last Saturday he picked up his 46th save, tying the major league record set by Dave Righetti in 1986.
Thigpen's transformation from outfielder to ace reliever has come more quickly than anyone expected. "I never thought he'd be this good," says Texas's Rafael Palmeiro, a former Mississippi State teammate. The White Sox, who selected Thigpen as a pitcher, not an outfielder, with a fourth-round draft pick in 1985, tried to make him a starter in the minors in 1986. "I was terrible," says Thigpen. "I couldn't deal with the inactivity of being a starter."
An ultracompetitive athlete, Thigpen thrives on work. Only 33 students were in his senior class at Osceola (Fla.) Christian High, so he pitched and played shortstop on the baseball team, played guard on the basketball team and was a tight end, middle linebacker and placekicker on the football team. He has pitched in four games in a row on two occasions this season and twice has had to be told by manager Jeff Torborg, "You're not pitching tonight. Even if we have to lose, you're not pitching."
The Sox haven't lost often when Thigpen pitches: His 46 saves have come in 53 tries. But the save record is not that important to him. "Our other relievers talk about it more than I do," says Thigpen. He credits the deep Chicago bullpen for his success: "[Reliever] Barry Jones always says when he walks a guy with a four-run lead [creating a save situation], 'I'm the best setup man there is.' "