Given Saturday's perfect game, it is entirely appropriate that today we mark the 48th anniversary of Ken Johnson's losing no-hitter.
On April 23, 1964, Johnson, pitching for the Colt 45s at Colt Stadium in Houston, matched up against the Reds' Joe Nuxhall in a tense pitcher's duel. For eight innings, both pitchers exchanged zeroes. Nuxhall had allowed five hits and a walk, but no runs. Johnson had walked two and struck out nine.
In the top of the ninth, things went very, very wrong. Nuxhall led off for the Reds and grounded out. That brought Pete Rose to bat. Rose tapped back to the mound, but Johnson threw the ball away. Rose reached second on the error. The next batter, third baseman Chico Ruiz, also hit back to the mound, but there was no play at third on the advancing Rose, so Houston had to settle for the out at first.
That brought center fielder Vada Pinson to the plate. Pinson hit the Reds' third grounder of the inning, this time to second base, where Hall of Fame-bound veteran Nellie Fox, 36, was waiting. Fox could hit a bit, but he was best known for his great fielding ability—he won only three Gold Gloves in his career, but they only started giving them out when his career was more than half over.
Well, Fox bobbled the ball. Rose scored on the E4.
Johnson retired the final batter, Frank Robinson (the other future Hall of Famer in the game), on a fly ball. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Nuxhall had problems of his own—an error by first baseman Deron Johnson allowed Pete Runnels to reach with two outs—but Nuxhall retired the last hitter on his second strikeout of the inning.
Final score: Reds 1, Colt 45s 0, and credit Ken Johnson with a losing no-hitter, the first such occasion in major-league history.
It wasn't the last time a pitcher lost a no-hitter. I still remember watching in horror as the Yankees and Andy Hawkins lost a no-hitter to the White Sox in 1990. So, when you consider just how rare and wonderful Phil Humber's perfect game was, just remember that sometimes rare and wonderful is no protection from failure. You can do everything right and still end up wrong.
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