Pitching a no-hitter is every pitcher’s dream. A major league no-hitter gets the pitcher’s name in the Hall of Fame. Every no-hitter is listed in the Hall of Fame naming the pitcher, the teams and the date. There have been 305 no-hitter since 1876 which averages about 2 per year.
There are many interesting stories about no-hitters and near no-hitters. Perhaps the most heartbreaking situation occurs after a pitcher has retired 26 batters without a hit and loses the no-hitter on the last out.
This situation has occurred only 11 times, far less frequently than an actual no-hitter. We can all imagine the disappointment of failing to get that last 27th out.
Given that this has only happened 11 times, how unbelievable is it that 3 of those two out one hitters happened to the same pitcher in less than twelve months.
Dave Stieb was a consistently good starting pitcher. He pitched for 16 years, 15 with the Blue Jays. He retired with a record of 176-137 and an ERA of 3.44. Nine of those 16 years, he won 12 games or more. However he experienced the most disheartening pitching experience three different times.
On September 24, 1988, he pitched against the Cleveland Indians. With two out in the ninth and two strikes on Julio Franco he could not get the last strike as Franco singled to center field. The game ended with a one hitter for Stieb.
As if we were living in the Twilight Zone on Stieb’s next start it happened again. September 30 against the Orioles Stieb had a no hitter with two outs in the ninth. Once again he was down to the last strike. Jim Traber hit a single to right. The next batter went out and Stieb had his second consecutive one-hitter. Both hits came with two outs and two strikes.
Feeling tremendously sorry did little to take away from the fact that two one-hitters will never get remembered as much as a no-hitter. Almost one year later on August 4, 1989, Stieb was pitching another masterpiece. Facing the Yankees, he entered the ninth with a no-hitter. This wasn’t just a no-hitter. Stieb was pitching a perfect game. He had retired the first 26 batters. However somebody named Roberto Kelly hit a two out double. That was followed by a single. Stieb got the final out, winning the game 2-1 on a two hitter. However, unbelievable as it sounds, for the third time in his career he lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth.
All of this would make Dave Stieb a strong nominee for the most unlucky pitcher in the history of baseball. Unbelievably there is one more chapter in the Dave Stieb story. It was again in the fall one year later, Stieb started a game against the Cleveland Indians. On September 2, 1990, Stieb took another no-hitter into the ninth inning for the fourth time in two years. The first batter flew out. The second batter struck out. Oh no, can this really happen to the same guy four times? Stieb walked the next batter. Second baseman Jerry Browne hit a line drive to right that was CAUGHT. After three broken hearts, Dave Stieb pitched his no-hitter.
The fact that these four starts happened in a two year period of time further amplifies the improbability of this story. In fact, if it was a story it would be rejected as totally unrealistic. The other irony is that Stieb accomplished something more rare than a no-hitter. He pitched 3 lost no hitters on the final out. Outside of Stieb, this event has only happened 8 times in 144 years of baseball records.