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THE ZIP IS BACK IN BASEBALL.
That became abundantly clear last weekend. On Friday night onetime teammates Dave Stewart and Fernando Valenzuela delivered a no-hit, right-left combination three hours and two countries apart. In Toronto, Stewart, who was a rookie with Valenzuela on the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers, no-hit the Blue Jays 5-0 for the Oakland Athletics in a game that ended at 10:07 p.m. EDT in the Sky-Dome. Twenty-nine minutes later, Valenzuela took the mound in Dodger Stadium and proceeded to no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals 6-0. And on Sunday afternoon in Comiskey Park, in one of the most bizarre no-hitters in history, Andy Hawkins of the New York Yankees gave up nary a knock to the Chicago White Sox—but lost the game 4-0 (box, page 19).
The Friday night blankings were the first same-day no-hitters to be thrown in this century. They were also the third and fourth this June (setting a major league record for a month). Hawkins's somewhat flawed gem, on the first day of July, brought this season's total to six—the most since 1969. That also meant that as many no-hitters had been thrown in the first half of this season as were thrown in the previous six seasons combined. In the '60s there were 35 no-hitters and in the '70s there were 31; but in the '80s there were only 13. In '90, baseball once again has got plenty of nothing.
Stewart struck out 12 in getting his 10th victory of the year and the first no-hitter of his life. "I didn't even have one in Little League," he said after the game. "I've never felt better than when I walked off that field tonight. As a pitcher, a no-hitter is it. What else can there be?"
Stewart's game was carried on ESPN, and many of the Dodgers witnessed it in their clubhouse video room 2,700 miles away. As Valenzuela walked to the bullpen to warm up for his start, he passed his teammates at the tube and said, "You're watching a no-hitter on TV, and now you're going to see one in person." Later, the seemingly prescient Valenzuela admitted that he "was only kidding."
He certainly fooled the Cardinals, striking out seven and retiring 17 in a row during one stretch. His game, too, was televised by ESPN. With one out and a man on in the ninth, Pedro Guerrero of the Cardinals hit a ground ball back through the box that Valenzuela deflected to shortstop Alfredo Griffin, who stepped on second and threw to first for the no-hitter-ending double play. Valenzuela was immediately embraced by catcher Mike Scioscia, who yelled, "You did it! You did it!"
Everybody's doing it, or at least it seems that way. On April 11, Mark Langston (seven innings) and Mike Witt (two) of the California Angels didn't allow the Seattle Mariners any hits in a 1-0 victory; on June 2, the Mariners were on the other end as Randy Johnson no-hit the Tigers 2-0; and on June 11, 43-year-old Nolan Ryan of the Texas Rangers pitched his sixth career no-hitter in a 5-0 win over the Athletics.
The hitless parade in June is particularly unusual because since 1981 only one no-hitter had been thrown in all the Junes, Julys and Augusts combined. And the last time there were two in one day was on April 22, 1898, when Ted Breitenstein of the Cincinnati Reds no-hit the Pittsburgh Pirates and Jim Hughes of the Baltimore Orioles no-hit the Boston Beaneaters. Neither of those games was carried on ESPN, by the way.
Why, all of a sudden, are there so many no-hitters? It's almost as if some pitchers have discovered the same wood repellent that turned Ray Milland into a 38-game winner for the Cardinals in the 1949 movie It Happens Every Spring. It's certainly happening this summer.
Says Ryan, "I'm as amazed by it as anybody."