Hideo Nomo is still one of the coolest pitchers in recent memory.
Ask millennials whose windups they tried to copy, and Nomo’s tornado delivery should come up more often than most. Often emulated in Little League, but certainly never matched since he retired, the Japanese native even had a certain flair when it came to his no-hitters.
Nomo twirled his first no-no on Sept. 17, 1996, in the place many thought would be impossible to do so: At the Rockies’ home ballpark. Or, in the much better words of Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully:
“Hideo Nomo has done what they said could not be done. Not in the Mile High City! Not at Coors Field in Denver! He’s not only shut out the Rockies, he has pitched a no-hitter … and thank goodness they saw it in Japan.”
His second no-hitter came in his very first game with the Boston Red Sox, in their second game of the season, 19 years ago today against the Orioles. Just like Nomo’s first gem, this one had plenty of good nuggets.
For starters, it’s the earliest no-hitter by calendar date in Major League history. It made Nomo just the fourth pitcher to author a no-hitter in both the National and American League, following Hall of Famers Cy Young, Jim Bunning and Nolan Ryan (Randy Johnson would join that club three years later). To this day, it’s still the only no-hitter -- home pitcher or away -- thrown at hitter-friendly Camden Yards. It was the first of a record four no-hitters received by Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, and just Manny Ramirez’s second game in a Boston uniform. And it came after a 43-minute delay caused by an electrical failure, leading to Murray Chass’ lede in that night’s recap for The New York Times: “First came the Baltimore power failure; then came the Orioles’ hitting failure.” (Nomo’s first no-hitter in Denver also came after a delay, that one for rain.)
Nomo wasn’t even the early story of this game. Instead it was young Orioles flame-thrower Sidney Ponson, who struck out five of the first six batters he faced and inspired the Baltimore broadcasters to wonder if they were “watching something special.” They were, but that something special was submitted by Nomo, who worked around some early walks before leaning on his signature split-fingered forkball to strike out 11 Orioles -- including eight of the final 13 batters he faced. Let’s turn back the clock to that early April night in Baltimore for today’s box score of the day. (And, if you want to relive this game for yourself, it’s available in full on the MLB Vault YouTube account).
Player of the Game: Brian Daubach, 1B, Red Sox
Well, OK, the other player of the game, besides Nomo. But this game might have gone scoreless deep into the night if it weren’t for Daubauch’s two homers, which drove in all three of Boston’s runs in the 3-0 victory. The first baseman went oppo off Ponson for a two-run shot in the top of the third, and then pulled a Ponson pitch just past the right-field foul pole in the eighth to give his pitcher some breathing room.
Daubach was a grinder, spending nearly nine years in the Minor Leagues before the Marlins called him up late in 1998. His best years came with the Red Sox, where he became one of Boston’s “Dirt Dogs” and topped 20 homers in four straight seasons. On Aug. 29, 2000, Daubach was thrown at six times (and hit twice) by Devil Rays pitchers and injured his left arm during a bench-clearing brawl with Tampa Bay (tensions began with this fastball thrown by Pedro Martínez). Then-Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein would later replace Daubach with a non-tendered corner infielder named David Ortiz, but Daubach would return to Boston in time to win a World Series ring in ‘04.
Remember him? Mike Lansing, 2B, Red Sox
Maybe you don’t, but this no-hitter doesn’t happen without him. With one out in the ninth, Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick chased a pitch way outside and blooped one off the end of his bat toward what looked to be no-man’s land behind second base. Who knows how many no-hit bids have ended on cheap singles like this one, but Lansing covered a huge amount of ground and snared the ball with his back turned toward home plate.
This would be one of the final highlights of Lansing’s career (he retired after the 2001 season), but he had an eventful path through nine big league seasons. The Wyoming native was selected by the Double-A Miami Miracle club (a team formerly owned by Jimmy Buffett and Bill Murray before being taken over by Mike Veeck, son of Hall of Fame executive Bill Veeck) in the 1990 MLB Draft -- and yes, you read that correctly. In 1990, MLB allowed both the Miracle and the Double-A Erie Sailors to participate in the Draft.
Lansing was later sold to the Montreal Expos, with whom, on Sept. 3, 1997, he homered for the Expos’ only hit in a win against … the Red Sox. After he was traded to the Rockies, Lansing became known for accompanying the Denver Police for SWAT team ride-alongs. Oh, and he was also nicknamed “The Laser.” That seemed worth mentioning.
He wore THAT uniform? Hideo Nomo, RHP, Red Sox
This night would catapult Nomo toward a career resurgence: He led the AL with 220 strikeouts and a 10 strikeout- per-nine-innings average. But without this game, you might have a hard time remembering that Nomo ever suited up for the Red Sox; this was his only season with Boston before he went back to the Dodgers via free agency. In fact, naming all of the uniforms Nomo put on as a big leaguer makes for a pretty good trivia question (for the record: Dodgers, Mets, Brewers, Tigers, Red Sox, Devil Rays and Royals).
By his first start of 2001, Nomo had already made an impression with his new team. In the first inning, Orioles legend Jim Palmer shared on the broadcast that Nomo was the only pitcher that Red Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan refused to catch in batting practice. The reason? Too much movement on Nomo’s “splitter from hell.” And by the end of the night, it was clear the Orioles didn't want to see any more splitters, either.
Before he was big: B.J. Ryan, LHP, Orioles
Several years before he would set a then-record for relievers by signing a five-year, $47 million free-agent deal with the Blue Jays, the towering 6-foot-6 Ryan came on to relieve Ponson in the eighth and got his man, striking out Trot Nixon. Then he intentionally walked Carl Everett and gave way to bullpen mate Mike Trombley.
At this time, Ryan was stuck as a funky, left-handed specialist. But Ryan would add more movement to his fastball and find ways to get everyone out by the end of 2004, when he took over the Orioles’ closer job from Jorge Julio. The next year, Ryan busted out with 36 saves, a 2.43 ERA and a 12.8 K/9 rate, positioning himself for a bidding war (the Yankees wanted him to be Mariano Rivera’s setup man) and, eventually, that record payday. Unfortunately for Blue Jays fans, Ryan would only submit one more All-Star season in a Toronto uniform.
Last call: Cal Ripken Jr., 3B, Orioles
How many people on this April night knew this would be Ripken’s last season? The baseball world at large didn’t find out until late June. Ripken was far from his customary self, batting just .210 by the time of his retirement announcement.
But aside from an early error on a ball that went through his legs, Ripken looked fairly spry in this contest. He was one of just three Orioles hitters who found a base, reaching on a second-inning error by Red Sox third baseman Shea Hillenbrand, and he also made good contact on a lineout to right in the fifth. Three months later, Ripken played in his 19th and final All-Star Game in Seattle.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.