25th anniversary: Pitcher misses perfecto in debut by one pitch

25 years ago today, San Diego starting pitcher Jimmy Jones nearly made a debut for the ages—but was prevented a memorable bit of history in the most improbable of manners.

In a game against the Astros on Sept. 21, 1986, Jones hurled his first pitch from the big league mound and looked to be a keeper.

In the first inning, he retired the Astros in order. It would be the beginning of a trend. In the second inning he did it again. It was not a fluke. In fact, on the day Jones retired the Astros 1-2-3 eight times in nine innings. Only once all day did Jones let an Astro reach base against him.

Just once. Had it not been for one pesky plate appearance, Jones would’ve thrown a no-hit perfect game in his very first major league appearance.

But alas, there was that pesky plate appearance. One man did in fact get on base. In fact, it was a hit, ruining not only the effort at perfection but also the no-hitter. In the third inning, Jones allowed a triple.

The batter who tripled? Bob Knepper. That’s right—Bob Knepper, the pitcher.

There have been many times in history a man has come one pitch away from perfection. Yes, but how often does that one pitch come against the opposing pitcher? (With a triple no less!) And what are the odds it occurs in a man’s big league debut?

Yeah, that was a memorable one. At least the triple came early in the game. Can you imagine if it was later on? (Then again, if it was two outs in the ninth, there’s no way Knepper would’ve batted).

Knepper had decent power—for a pitcher. This was his second career triple, and he belted a homer per year every year for each of the four previous seasons. Then again, he wasn’t that great of a hitter, even for a pitcher. His career batting average was .137, which is exactly what NL hurlers hit in 1986. Adjust for the Astrodome all you want, and there’s no way you’d expect Knepper to be the man who breaks up a perfect game.

As for Jones, sadly this game wasn’t the start of something brilliant. He pitched twice more in 1986, and came back in 1987 as a mediocre pitcher. The next year he became a flatly lousy one. He lasted eight years, but the Jones’ performance a quarter-century ago every bit as fluky as Knepper’s unlikely shot. Jones’ minor league numbers were never that impressive.

Jones never even got another chance against Knepper. They never faced each other after this game. Even in the Sept. 21, 1986 game, the Astros pulled Knepper before his second at bat. All Jones could settle for was this—sure Knepper tripled off him, but at least Jones got the win. Knepper could hit that day but he couldn’t pitch. In four innings he surrendered 11 hits—including a single to Jimmy Jones.

Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you just want to skim.

Day-versaries

4,000 days since Bobby J. Jones tosses a one-hitter in Game Four of the NLDS. Mets top the Giants, 4-0.

6,000 days since Jack Morris decides to retire.

9,000 days since Pittsburgh’s Darnell Coles belts three home runs in one game.

15,000 days since the birth of Jim Thome.

20,000 days since the Yankees hire Phil Rizzuto as a broadcaster. He’ll join Mel Allen and Red Barber in the booth.

30,000 days since Babe Ruth got his 2,000th hit.

30,000 days since Dazzy Vance suffers his worst Game Score: -10. His line: 6 IP, 18 H, 13 R, 10 ER, 1 BB, and only 1 K.

Anniversaries

1880 300-game winner Mickey Welch surrenders two inside the park home runs to Harry Stovey, who at one point in time was baseball’s all-time career home run king. (He’ll be passed by Roger Connor, who will be passed by Babe Ruth, and then Hank Aaron, and Bobby Bonds).

1881 Ross Barnes, one of the greatest hitters of his day, plays his final game.

1892 John Clarkson becomes the fifth man to win 300 games. Before him are Pud Galvin, Mickey Welch, Tim Keefe, and Old Hoss Radbourn.

1895 First baseman Harry Davis makes his big league debut. For a little while, he’ll be the all-time career AL home run king.

1896 Connie Mack resigns as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates effective at the season’s conclusion. Then he’ll move to the Western League, which will later evolve into the American League.

1901 An Indians-Senators doubleheader features 22 errors.

1901 The Cubs beat the Braves 1-0 in 17 innings in a game in which there are no extra base hits.

1904 Wildfire Schulte, starter for the 116-win 1906 Cubs, makes his big league debut.

1907 Dode Paskert first plays in the majors.

1907 Fred Merkle debuts in the big leagues.

1908 Hall of Famer Frank “Home Run” Baker first plays in the big leagues.

1910 Elden Auker, who will be the last living man to surrender a home run to Babe Ruth, is born.

1911 Rookie sensation Pete Alexander hurls his fourth consecutive shutout.

1913 Johnny Kling, catcher on the 116-win 1906 Cubs, plays his last game.

1919 The Dodgers beat the Reds 3-1 in a game that takes 55 minutes to play. Slim Sallee tosses only 65 pitches in the loss.

1919 Eddie Cicotte tells Sleepy Bill Burns he agrees to be involved in the upcoming World Series fix.

1920 Assistant Illinois state’s attorney Hartley Replogle announces he’ll subpoena players, owners, manager, and gamblers about the 1919 World Series fix.

1921 Goose Goslin belts his first career home run. It’s off fellow Hall of Famer Red Faber.

1925 Pirates outfielder Kiki Cuyler sets an NL record with his 10th consecutive hit.

1927 Zack Wheat, Hall of Fame outfielder, plays his final game.

1927 Ty Cobb lasts mans the center field position.

1928 Hard-hitting pitcher Red Ruffing belts a three-run homer, giving his Boston Red Sox a 5-3 win over the Browns.

1931 Jimmie Foxx hits the first of two pinch-hit grand slams in his career.

1934 In the first game of a Cardinals-Dodgers doubleheader, St. Louis ace Dizzy Dean tosses a three-hitter. Then his brother Paul Dean tosses a no-hitter in the second one. Diz famously quips afterwards—”Paul, if you told me earlier you were going to it, I’d have thrown a no-hitter, too.”.

1935 Walk-machine Max Bishop plays in his final game.

1938 Game at Braves Field in Boston cut short by hurricane. The umps call it when a pop fly goes into the right field stands.

1939 For the first time in the 20th century, an NL game is moved to a different town. A Phillies-Dodger doubleheader goes to Brooklyn to help them reach 1,000,000 fans on the year.

1942 Sudden Sam McDowell is born.

1946 The Indians play their last game in League Park, losing 5-3 to the Tigers in 11 innings.

1948 The Reds release longtime ace pitcher Bucky Walters.

1952 The Braves play their final home game in Boston, lose 8-2 before 8,822 fans to the Dodgers. It’s their second largest home crowd of the year.

1955 After seven years, Trader Frank Lane steps down as White Sox GM.

1956 Al Kaline reaches base for the 44th straight game, easily his longest such streak. He’s 76-for-208 with 36 walks in that spell.

1956 Mickey Mantle hits a monster shot at Fenway Park, going 450-500 feet, landing off the back wall in center.

1956 Hard-luck pitcher Turk Farrell makes his big league debut.

1957 Ted Williams belts the 15th of his 17 career grand slams.

1957 The Indians take Hoyt Wilhelm off of waivers from the Cardinals.

1958 Dale Long catches the ninth inning of a Cubs’ loss to the Dodgers, making him one of the very few lefties to ever catch in a big league game.

1958 Dee Fondy plays his last game, ending his career with exactly 1,000 hits.

1958 Yogi Berra plays his only full game at third base.

1959 Cardinals pitcher Danny Cox is born.

1959 Ernie Banks reaches base safely six times in one game for the only time. He goes 4-for-4 with two walks.

1960 In the bottom of the fourth inning, Don Drysdale loads the bases with no outs, then fans three straight batters to get out of the inning without allowing any runs. It’s the second time he’s ever done that. The first time was slightly over a year ago.

1962 Sandy Koufax returns to the mound after missing time with a circulatory disorder in his pitching hand. The Cardinals knock him out in the first inning.

1963 Cecil Fielder is born.

1963 Harmon Killebrew belts three home runs in one game.

1963 Rico Petrocelli makes his big league debut. In the same contest, Bob Turley and Gene Conley each make their last appearance in a major league game.

1963 Denny McLain makes his major league debut. It’s the same game pitcher/author Jim Brosnan last appears in.

1963 Joe Morgan makes his major league debut.

1965 Jim Pagliaroni has the best known one-game WPA performance by a Pittsburgh batter. He goes 3-for-4 with a homer, two runs, three RBIs, a walk and a strikeout in the team’s 6-5 win over the Mets for a 1.284 WPA.

1965 Former baseball player Socks Seibold dies.

1965 Frank Lary, pitcher, last appears in a big league game.

1966 Only 440 fans attend a 9-3 Cub win over the Reds at Wrigley Field.

1966 Former Red Frank Robinson has his seventh multi-home run game of the year, as he leads the Orioles to a pennant title and wins a Triple Crown for himself.

1966 It’s a rare walk-off home run by a pitcher: Juan Marichal bashes one off Roy Face in a Giants-Pirates game.

1968 Ted Simmons makes his big league debut.

1969 Bill Buckner makes his big league debut.

1969 Willie McCovey gets on base six times in one game for the only time in his career. He has two walks (one intentional) and four hits.

1970 The Cubs select Hoyt Wilhelm off of waivers from the Braves.

1970 Vida Blue tosses a no-hitter. Aside from a walk to Harmon Killebrew in the fourth inning, it’s a perfect game.

1971 Ron Santo belts his 300th career home run. It’s off Tom Seaver.

1971 AL owners vote 10-2 to allow Senators owner Bob Short to relocate the team to Texas.

1971 Jim Maloney plays in his final game.

1972 Scott Spiezio is born.

1973 The Mets hit .500 and reach first place in the NL East. It is a weird divisional race.

1975 Gaylord Perry wins, giving him a career record of 215-174. Incredibly, his brother Jim Perry also has a career record of 215-174 at this moment.

1974 Jim Rice breaks his arm in a Tigers-Red Sox game.

1978 The Cubs use 27 players in a 4-3 loss to the Pirates in 14 innings.

1978 Gaylord Perry becomes the third pitcher to beat all 26 teams. Rick Wise and Mike Torrez did it before him.

1979 Lou Brock steals his last base.

1979 The Pirates purchase Dock Ellis, formerly a star pitcher in Pittsburgh, from the Mets.

1979 U. L. Washington homers from both sides of the plate in one game for his first and second career home runs.

1981 Steve Carlton passes his former teammate Bob Gibson for most strikeouts in NL history when he fans Andre Dawson for strikeout number 3,118.

1981 Angels outfielders Fred Lynn and Brian Downing crash through the fence trying to make the catch. Lynn successfully comes down with the ball in California’s 2-1 win over the Royals.

1983 Richie Zisk plays in his last game.

1983 Gaylord Perry makes his last appearance in the big leagues.

1984 George Brett hits his second career grand slam. He’ll never have another one.

1984 Orioles rookie Jim Traber sings the National Anthem before the game and then makes his big league debut.

1984 Reggie Jackson gets his first sacrifice hit since Sept. 23, 1972. It’s the last one of his career.

1986 Philadelphia pitcher Marvin Freeman records his first career victory on the same day his daughter is born.

1987 John McNamara wins his 1,000th game as a manager. His career record: 1,000-1,076.

1987 Arbitrator Thomas T. Roberts rules that baseball owners colluded in the 1985 free agent market.

1987 Sacio Kinugasa, the Lou Gehrig of Japan, announces he’ll retire at the end of the year.

1989 Murry Dickson, maybe the best swingman of all-time, dies.

1989 Tim Raines ties a career high with four stolen bases in a game. It’s his fifth time in all, and first one in over five years.

1990 San Diego fires Jack McKeon as their manager.

1990 Randy Johnson endures the worst start of his careerone inning.

1991 Bobby Cox and Tommy Lasorda manage against each other for the 100th time.

1993 Braves and Expos use a combined 13 pinch-hitters in a game that Atlanta wins, 18-5.

1993 Charlie Leibrandt appears in his last big league game.

1996 Eddie Murray blasts his 19th and final career grand slam.

1996 Christie’s Fine Art Auctions sells a Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card for $640,000.

1996 Vladimir Guerrero belts his first career home run.

1997 Barry Bonds legs out his third and final career inside the park home run.

1997 Brad Radke tosses 10 innings for the Twins, the last time they have a pitcher record more than 27 outs.

2001 Albert Pujols connects for his first career grand slam.

2001 Baseball returns to New York City: Mets beat the Braves, 3-2.

2005 Mudcat Grant and Al Downing welcome Dontrelle Wills as the 13th black acethe 13th non-Latino black man to win 20 games in a season.

2008 Carlos Delgado gets his 2,000th hit in his 2,002nd game. He does it in style, going 4-for-5 with a double and home run.

2009 Houston fires manager Cecil Cooper.

2010 Jim Edmonds pops his Achilles rounding third base on a home run trot, ending his career.

2010 Omar Vizquel plays in his 100th game of the year, becoming only the second player to ever play 100 games in a season in four different decades. Ted Williams is the other man to do it.

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