Here are the Bucs' best regular-season starts

January 18th, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- It’s been more than two decades since the Pirates’ last no-hitter, and they’re still waiting on their first official perfect game. But their long history contains some of the most unique, unforgettable pitching performances that baseball has ever seen.

There’s Harvey Haddix and his nearly perfect game. There are five individual no-hitters and one combined effort with a nine-inning start. There are games with piles of strikeouts and one inexplicably long outing without a walk to be found. And that’s just the regular season, not even taking into account Pittsburgh’s iconic postseason starts like the two complete games Steve Blass worked in the 1971 World Series or the Game 7 shutout Babe Adams pitched in the 1909 Fall Classic.

Let’s look at some of the best individual regular-season single-game starting pitching performances in Pirates history.

1. The near-perfect game: May 26, 1959
Key stat: 12 perfect innings -- and a loss

This was arguably the greatest game ever pitched, and it still seems beyond cruel that it ended with the left-hander Haddix on the losing end. Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings, something no one had done before and no one has done since, before giving up the game in the 13th as the Pirates fell to the Milwaukee Braves, 1-0, at County Stadium.

Milwaukee’s lineup featured Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, but those hitters gave Haddix no trouble. Haddix completed what should have been a perfect game in the ninth: 27 up, 27 down. Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski would later tell Sports Illustrated, “It was the easiest game I ever played in.”

The Pirates put runners on in the 10th, 11th and 12th innings but couldn’t capitalize against the Braves’ Lew Burdette, who worked 13 scoreless innings and won despite giving up 12 hits on the night. Haddix kept throttling Milwaukee with his fastball and slider before, finally, fate turned against him in the 13th.

Felix Mantilla reached on an error by third baseman Don Hoak to begin the inning. Mathews bunted Mantilla to second, and Haddix intentionally walked Aaron. Up came Joe Adcock, who smacked a walk-off double to right-center field to end the amazing performance by Haddix in astonishing fashion.

It’s not officially recognized as a perfect game, but the Hall of Fame nonetheless displays a ticket stub, a game ball autographed by Haddix and the lefty’s glove to commemorate the outing. And Haddix would officially be a part of history the following year: He was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.


2. The solo no-hitters: Nick Maddox, Cliff Chambers, Bob Moose, Dock Ellis, John Candelaria

The Pirates have thrown six no-hitters, and in five of those games, the starting pitcher has gone the distance. We’re lumping them all together here rather than trying to rank them by order of significance. They were all no-hitters, all history, all impressive in their own right.

On Sept. 20, 1907, the rookie right-hander Maddox gave up a run and three walks and saw his defense commit two errors behind him but still held Brooklyn hitless for nine innings to complete Pittsburgh’s first no-hitter. The Pirates only totaled two hits but won, 2-1, at Exposition Park. Maddox only spent four seasons in Pittsburgh, compiling a 2.29 ERA in 93 outings, before he was sold to Kansas City of the American Association.

Forty-four years later, the unheralded lefty Chambers worked the Pirates’ second no-hitter in a 3-0 win over Boston at Braves Field. Chambers walked eight, struck out four and helped his own cause with an RBI single in the eighth on his way toward history in the second half of a doubleheader on May 6, 1951.

Next came Moose, who no-hit the eventual World Series champion Mets on Sept. 20, 1969. The right-hander struck out six and walked three, and his lineup gave him some breathing room with a three-run fourth inning on their way to a 4-0 victory at Shea Stadium.

A year later, Ellis threw the Pirates’ most famous no-hitter – a distinction due mostly to his later revelation that he took the mound at San Diego Stadium under the influence of LSD. As the story goes, Ellis woke up in Los Angeles on the day of the game and rushed to San Diego after a friend informed him he was scheduled to pitch the first half of a doubleheader. The right-hander walked eight batters and struck out six, and Willie Stargell hit two homers in the Bucs’ 2-0 win over the Padres on June 12, 1970.

Last but not least is Candelaria, who threw the first no-hitter by the Pirates in Pittsburgh in 69 years when he downed the Dodgers on Aug. 9, 1976, at Three Rivers Stadium. Candelaria struck out seven and walked only one batter in his nationally televised gem, making it arguably the most statistically impressive of the Pirates’ individual no-nos.

3. The combined no-hitter: July 12, 1997
Key stat: The first combined extra-inning no-hitter in Major League history

The 1997 Pirates were known as “The Freak Show,” a collection of low-paid veterans and rookies who were surprisingly competitive and finished the year with a 79-83 record, good enough for second place in the National League Central. And the Freak Show’s finest moment came on this Saturday night before a crowd of 44,119 at Three Rivers Stadium.

Blown out by the Astros by a combined score of 17-0 in the previous two games, the Pirates sent right-hander Francisco Córdova to the mound. His performance was even greater than any individual no-hitter tossed by a Pittsburgh pitcher, as he held a Houston lineup led by Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell to only two walks and struck out 10 over nine hitless innings. But Córdova received no support from the Pirates lineup, which was shut out for nine innings.

Manager Gene Lamont lifted Córdova, who had thrown 121 pitches, and sent in reliever Ricardo Rincon to pitch a scoreless, hitless 10th inning. Finally, the Pirates delivered the history their pitchers deserved. Jason Kendall and Turner Ward walked, and Mark Smith blasted a walk-off three-run homer to seal what remains the only combined extra-inning no-hitter in MLB history.

4. The power pitching performance: June 1, 1965
Key stat: 16 strikeouts in a nine-inning shutout

On Sept. 30, 1964, hard-throwing lefty Bob Veale struck out a franchise-record 16 batters and walked eight while working 12 1/3 innings in a 1-0 win over the Reds at Crosley Field. That display of dominance and stamina deserves a mention here, but Veale outdid himself less than a year later against the Phillies.

On a rainy night at Forbes Field, Veale tied his own record and struck out 16 while holding Philadelphia to only five hits and two walks in a nine-inning shutout, a 4-0 Pittsburgh victory. Veale struck out five of the final six hitters he faced to match his 16-strikeout mark, and he’d go on to punch out 276 batters that season. That number still stands as the Pirates’ modern-era record for strikeouts in a single season; in fact, Veale holds the top two spots – 276 in 1965 and 250 in ’64 – and four of the top five.

Veale was hard to predict, as his power arsenal often led to high walk totals, but he was responsible for some of the most dominant performances the Pirates have ever seen. The franchise has had four 15-strikeout starts ever, with Veale responsible for three (including a 15-K, complete-game loss on Sept. 22, 1964) and Woodie Fryman the other (a 15-strikeout shutout on Sept. 1, 1969).

5. The extraordinary display of control: July 17, 1914
Key stat: No walks in a 21-inning complete game

There have been 10 recorded starts of at least 21 innings since 1901. That number seems unfathomable these days, in an era of declining complete games, so it should come as no surprise that the last 21-inning start took place in 1929.

A majority of those 10 starts took place on opposite sides of three games. Joe Harris and Jack Coombs went back and forth for 24 innings on Sept. 1, 1906. Leon Cadore and Joe Oeschger dueled for 26 innings on May 1, 1920. And on July 17, 1914, the Pirates’ Adams went toe-to-toe with the New York Giants’ Rube Marquard for 21 innings.

Adams is the most accomplished pitcher in Pirates history by some standards, including wins above replacement. He burst onto the scene in 1909, going 12-3 with a 1.11 ERA before hurling three complete-game victories in the World Series. And that July day in 1914 might have been one of his greatest performances after his first Fall Classic, even if it ended with an “L” next to his name.

Marquard prevailed in the end as New York beat Pittsburgh, 3-1, at Forbes Field. But what Adams accomplished that day is no less historical. No pitcher in Major League history has ever gone 21 innings in one game without issuing a single walk, as Adams did that day. He gave up three runs on 12 hits and struck out six, but he did not permit a single free pass in the equivalent of 2 1/3 consecutive nine-inning complete games. That is the kind of history that will never be seen again.