Twenty years ago today, on September 2, 1990, Dave Stieb finally did it. After years of painful teasing, he finally threw a complete game no-hitter. Rarely had a pitcher gone such torture to achieve this goal.
Prior to that day, Stieb had five separate complete game one-hitters. As an added bonus: all five one-hitters had come in a fairly rapid sequence, in a 15-month sequence from May 1988 to August 1989.
The next one was quite different. Against the Cleveland Indians on September 24, 1988 – Stieb’s next-to-last start of the season – he went quite a bit deeper into the game without allowing a hit. He made it all the way to the ninth inning without allowing a hit. He retired the first two batters, putting him only one out away from history.
At this point, Cleveland’s star second baseman – the already veteran Julio Franco – stepped to the plate. He fought Stieb mightily, fouling off three straights pitches after falling into a 1-2 hole, but Stieb couldn’t seem to put him away. Finally, on the eighth pitch of the battle, Franco put the ball into play – and it looked like Stieb had won. An easy grounder went to Toronto’s second baseman Manuel Lee.
As everyone got up, expecting Stieb to get his no-hitter, the inexplicable happened. As the ball approached Lee, it took this bizarre hop well over Lee’s head, catapulting into centerfield for a mother of all flukes single. I believe the ball hit the boundary between Toronto’s turf and the dirt around second. Whatever, Stieb had been denied. He had to settle for a hard-fought 1-0 win, but not a no-hitter.
Well, he shrugged it off well and came out firing in his next start on September 30, 1988. In fact, wouldn’t you know it – for the second straight start he took a no-hitter into the ninth inning. For the second straight start, he retired the first two batters in the ninth, putting him within one out of a no-hitter. For the second straight game, the potential last out (pinch hitter Jim Traber) fought Stieb hard, this time running the at bat for six pitches. And yes, for the second straight game, would-be out #27 became hit #1 with a single. Dave Stieb was a cursed version of Johnny Vander Meer.
Stieb came back the next year and on April 10, 1989 – only his second start of the new year – threw yet another complete game one-hitter. This time the Fates were less malicious: the single came in the fifth inning with one out by Yankee catcher Jaime Quirk. But overall, it was entirely ridiculous. Stieb had now thrown four complete game one-hitters in less than 12 months – including three in his last four starts.
On August 26, 1989, it happened one more time. Stieb threw a no-hitter for five and two-thirds innings – long enough into the game to make everyone aware of what was possible – before Robin Yount singled for what would be the Brewers’ only hit on the day. It was an infield single to third. Ouch. Again, God had forsaken Dave Stieb.
Which brings us to today’s anniversary: September 2, 1990, Stieb finally did it. For the third time, he took a no-hitter into the ninth inning. For the second time, it was against the Cleveland Indians. Fortunately, Julio Franco now played for Texas.
That said, the ninth inning was no picnic for Stieb. Leading off the inning, pinch hitter Chris James fought Stieb for six pitches before flying out deep to left field. Next up, Candy Maldanado fought Stieb for another six pitches before Stieb – rallying from a 2-1 count, fanned him.
OK, now Stieb, for the third time, was one out away from his long-sought no-hitter. Was the pressure getting to him? Well, I’ll tell you this much – he walked the next batter (Alex Cole) on four pitches. Yeah, I think he felt some butterflies. Now Jerry Browne came to the plate. Like Franco two years before, he was Cleveland’s second baseman and represented their last chance to break up yet another possible Dave Stieb no-hitter.
Ball one. That was Stieb’s fifth straight pitch to miss the strike zone. That’s one way to stop them from getting a hit. Next pitch Browne took, and it finally caught the strike zone, evening up the count. Meanwhile, Cole advanced to second on defensive interference. (The game was only 2-0 and the final itself was still in doubt). Stieb tossed another ball, and then evened the count up again, 2-2. It was another called strike – Browne hadn’t moved his bat yet. No one had for eight straight pitches.
Stieb threw his next pitch – number five in this appearance and #123 for the game and this time Browne liked it – and finally swung. The shot had its chances – it was a liner beyond the infield – but towards right, where Junior Felix caught it. Game over – Dave Stieb had FINALLY done it.
It’s a damn good thing he did it that day, too, because his days as an effective starter were pretty much done. That win put Stieb at 17-5 for the year. He won one more game that year, and then only four in each of the next two years – and he never won multiple games in a season after that.
Though long overdue, Stieb finally did it, twenty years ago today.
B-ref’s Play Index came in handy lookiing up all the CG 1-hitters for Stieb.