Padres await first no-no, 41 years after closest call
On anniversary of Arlin's gem, Friars remain only MLB club without a no-hitter
SAN DIEGO -- Fate wouldn't seem likely to tie Denny Doyle and Steve Arlin together.
The two ballplayers -- one a pitcher, one a second baseman -- spent most of their careers playing on separate coasts for similarly struggling clubs.
Arlin, a 6-foot-3 right-hander, pitched six seasons for the Padres, putting up solid numbers, but never getting the support needed to make a splash in the wins column.
Doyle was a slap-hitting 5-foot-9 second baseman who is best known for his time spent with Boston and his role in the fabled 1975 World Series, where he was the lone player to notch a hit in all seven games.
But before Doyle laced up his cleats for Boston, he had spent four seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, a young squad yet to hit its stride.
When Doyle's last-place Phillies and Arlin's last-place Padres met on a hot July day -- exactly 41 years ago -- in front of 4,764 fans at San Diego Stadium, it was about as inconspicuous a meeting as could be imagined.
Funny, the way baseball works.
Forty-four years, three months and 10 days. That's how long it's been since the San Diego Padres played their first game in 1969. That's also how long the franchise has gone without a no-hitter -- the only ballclub without one.
Randy Jones never threw one. Ed Whitson never threw one. Kevin Brown, Jake Peavy and Gaylord Perry never threw one for San Diego. The Padres boast three ERA titles. They've had four National League Cy Young Award winners. But they've never thrown a no-hitter.
"You have to have a lot of things go in your favor," Arlin said. "The umpire has to be doing a decent job, you have to be scoring runs -- I pitched a one-hitter against the Mets and it was 0-0 into the 10th inning. That kind of stuff has to go right for you. Sometimes it doesn't."
Opened in 2004, Petco Park would appear to offer the perfect conditions. A heavy marine layer and pitcher-friendly dimensions (which were adjusted to play a little more balanced before the 2013 season) bring a whole new meaning to the phrase "warning-track power."
In fact, Saturday night saw the park's first no-hitter -- a 148-pitch gem from San Francisco's Tim Lincecum. It was the eighth no-no by an opponent, as the Padres' drought continued.
"Especially with the type of pitchers and arms the Padres have had, maybe you would have thought [we] would have had one by now," said Padres catcher Nick Hundley. "I know that it's a newer ballpark, but I'm a little surprised."
In recent years, Padres pitchers have had their brush with history several times.
On Sept. 22, 2006, Pittsburgh's Joe Randa hit a pinch-hit two-run homer with one out in the ninth inning off Chris Young.
On July 9, 2011, five Padres pitchers combined to throw 8 2/3 no-hit innings against the Dodgers before Luke Gregerson surrendered a double. With the game scoreless in the bottom of the ninth, however, they would have needed at least one more unblemished frame to accomplish the feat.
The close calls aren't limited to the past decade, however. On July 21, 1970, Clay Kirby -- sitting on eight no-hit frames -- was removed for a pinch-hitter by manager Preston Gomez. Cito Gaston, hitting in his place, struck out and the Padres lost the no-hitter in the top of the ninth, eventually losing, 3-0.
Arlin had his share of chances as well. He tossed two one-hitters -- including that 10-inning gem against New York -- to go along with four two-hitters. But Arlin -- and the Padres -- never came closer than that ho-hum July day in 1972.
Entering the contest, Arlin had already suffered his share of tough luck. Despite a 3.48 ERA a season earlier, Arlin led the league with 19 losses. He took the mound with a sub-3.00 ERA that day, but was 7-10 and en route to leading the league in losses yet again.
"I don't remember anything about that day being any different than any other," Arlin said. "But as the day progressed, the starting pitcher knows what's going on. I don't remember any balls being hit hard. There were no saving catches or anything like that. I was pretty much going through the lineup."
A first-inning walk erased any chance at perfection, but it soon became clear that Arlin would be making a run at something special.
"Steve Arlin, he was a super pitcher," said Doyle, who entered the ninth with two flyouts and a groundout. "He had a good fastball, breaking ball, changeup. Not only that, but he was intelligent, too. It's just one of those things. ... He had pitched one heck of a game."
When Doyle stepped into the batter's box with two outs in the ninth, Arlin's line read: 8 2/3 innings pitched, no hits, no runs, four strikeouts and three walks.
The Padres haven't been within one out of a no-no since that day.
"You get to the seventh, eighth inning, you start thinking, 'Wow, what do I have going here?' And you get a little more into that zone," Arlin said. "I get to the ninth inning -- no problems through two hitters. Denny Doyle came up, and it went from there."
When Arlin got two quick strikes on Doyle, manager Don Zimmer brought third baseman Dave Roberts in to guard against a bunt attempt or a weak dribbler.
"I wasn't paying attention to it," Arlin said. "I didn't think it would matter at the time. It was just me and the catcher."
Arlin jammed Doyle with a pitch. Doyle contends it was a fastball. Arlin says slider. Either way, it bounced straight into the dirt in front of home plate.
"I was one of those hitters that just tried to make contact," Doyle said. "That was the only shot that I had anyway. The ground was hard, and I hit this one-hopper that went over the third baseman's head. There wasn't anything romantic about it."
Said Arlin: "The ball hit in front of the plate and bounced right up over Roberts' outstretched glove -- right above him. It hit maybe six feet fair, right next to the third-base bag. If he had been where he's supposed to be, I'm walking in there and getting interviewed for a no-hitter."
Flustered, Arlin followed by balking, then surrendering a single before recording the final out of a 5-1 Padres victory. After the game, he recalled a remorseful Zimmer coming up to him and saying, "I screwed up."
Doyle, meanwhile, had already notched the lone knock in two one-hitters -- against Nolan Ryan and Gary Nolan.
"I remember looking in the face of those individuals and seeing that 'you've got to be kidding me' look," Doyle said.
"There's only one time you get to see that look," he added, referring to each time a starter surrenders his first hit.
It's a familiar look on the faces of Padres starters. They've made it during every game in club history -- 7,098 times, to be exact.