MLB: Why Preston Gomez Prevented Clay Kirby from Trying to No-Hit the Mets

Harold FriendChief Writer IJuly 28, 2011

Clay Kirby
Clay Kirby

Ervin Santana pitched a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians yesterday, but he didn’t pitch a shutout.

The Indians scored an unearned run on in the first inning when Ezequiel Carrera reached on an error, stole second, moved to third on a ground out and scored on a Santana wild pitch.

The Angels tied the game in the fifth inning and went on to a 3-1 victory.

This brings us to the San Diego Padres.

The New York Mets were visiting the cellar-dwelling Padres on July 21, 1970. Jim McAndrew (4-8) started for the Mets against the Padres Clay Kirby (5-11).

Tommy Agee led off the game with a walk and promptly stole second, just as Carrera did yesterday against the Angels.

Bud Harrelson popped up to shortstop Steve Huntz for the first out, but Kirby walked the lead-footed Ken Singleton.

Singleton, now a broadcaster for the New York Yankees, still refers to the next play. He was on the back end of a double steal.

Agee was now on third, Singleton was on second and Art Shamsky was the batter. He hit a ground ball to second baseman Ron Slocum, who threw him out as Agee scored.

The Mets scored a run without a hit, just as the Indians did yesterday.

The one run held up as the Padres batted in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Padres had only three hits, but that was three more than the Mets had managed.

Then the fun started.

Ed Spiezio, who had power but was not a good hitter, grounded out to shortstop Harrelson.

Bob Barton, an offensively challenged batter, hit a harmless fly ball to right field that was easily handled by Singleton.

Now, the Padres were well entrenched in last place. They were in their second year of existence and were not drawing many paying customers. On this night, attendance was only 10,373, but the next move created great interest in the team.

Manager Preston Gomez, a solid baseball man, believed winning the game trumped individual achievements.

Clarence Gaston, who was the Padres top hitter at .333 with 18 home runs but had been resting a strained leg muscle, pinch hit for Kirby.

The fans booed long and loud, to no avail.

Gomez knew the Padres could still lose the game even if Gaston hit a home run. He knew that Kirby might lose his no-hitter if he went out for the ninth inning.

Gaston struck out. The Mets scored twice in the ninth off relief pitcher Jack Baldschun for a 3-0 win.

After the game, Gomez spoke to the media, including Joseph Durso of the New York Times.

“It would have been the easy way out for me to let the kid go up and hit. I hated to take him out, but we needed runs. I don’t play for the fans.”

The Amazin’ Mets were amazed, according to Tom Seaver.

“The Mets bench just gasped in disbelief,” Seaver told Durso. "I personally would have let him hit. If the pennant race were involved, no. But in this situation, yes.”

Winning pitcher Jim McAndrew was realistic.

“He (Gomez) had to pinch hit to try to win the game. They say a no-hitter would have helped attendance here. Well, I’ve heard more people talking about baseball in San Diego than ever.”

Mets broadcaster and Pittsburgh Pirates great Ralph Kiner as well as Yankees manager Ralph Houk supported Gomez’ decision.

Now we come to the rest of the story.

Four years later, on Sept. 4, 1974, Gomez was managing the Houston Astros.

Don Wilson had no-hit the Cincinnati Reds through eight innings, but the Astros were trailing 2-1. Wilson was scheduled to lead off the Astros in the eighth.

Infielder Dave Campbell, who had been with the Padres when Gomez pinch hit for Kirby, told his Astros teammates Gomez would do it again.

He did. The Astros lost, 2-1.



Reference:

Durso, Joseph. “8-Inning No-Hitter Irks Fans on Coast.” New York Times. 23 July 1970. P. 34.

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