Outfielder Johnson is pitcher's best friend Glove lends hand to Alvarez's effort

August 12, 1991|By Kent Baker

Twice yesterday, Wilson Alvarez's no-hit bid was in jeopardy, both times in the late innings.

But the official scorer's ruling preserved it in the seventh and the Chicago White Sox's fleet center fielder, Lance Johnson, did the rest.

Johnson was all over the Memorial Stadium outfield, chasing down hard-hit drives down the stretch as the crowd at Memorial Stadium switched allegiance and began rooting for the 21-year-old pitcher to succeed.

"Johnson kept the ball off the grass. That does a lot for a pitcher's confidence," said Mike Devereaux, his Baltimore Orioles counterpart.

In the eighth, Chris Hoiles launched a shot to right-center that appeared out of Johnson's reach. But he dived, speared the ball and then turned over, finishing the play standing on his head.

The crowd roared its approval.

"I wasn't sure the ball was still in there when I came out of my dive," said Johnson. "Sometimes, the ball will fly out. I had to look in the glove and see. I could feel it, but I wasn't sure."

Johnson said he was obliged to go for the ball because "If I don't, it could be a triple. I had a good jump, Mike [Huff, right fielder] had a good jump. We were both getting ready to dive, but he pulled off at the last minute. That late in the game, I have to do it. I did the dive and roll."

It was the best of four straight putouts by Johnson that kept Alvarez rolling. The pitcher took care of the final two outs, striking out Juan Bell, then walking Cal Ripken and Dwight Evans and striking out Randy Milligan.

"I thanked him for the catch and I have to thank him again," said Alvarez.

Catcher Ron Karkovice, regarded as one of the top receivers in baseball, was involved in the other play -- and he cheerfully accepted an error.

With one out in the seventh, Ripken topped a ball to the right of the mound about 20 feet from the plate. Karkovice picked up the ball, then threw high and wide to first base on a tough play.

After viewing the replay, official scorer Phil Wood did not hesitate.

"I had no doubt," said Wood. "Clearly, the play had him [Ripken] beat by a half step." E-2. It was the only close call he had.

"The replay showed the ball beat him there," said Karkovice. "If I ++ get it down, he's out."

The catcher said he was sweating out the call like everyone else and saying to himself, " 'Just give me an error.' I looked up, and there it was.

"Any time anybody is throwing a no-hitter and there is a decision, you always want the error."

The Orioles, who understandably weren't very talkative afterward, did not dispute the call.

Manager John Oates described it as "a tough play for a catcher to make. If he makes a good throw, there's a possibility he's out. That's a tough position for an official scorer."

Alvarez got 12 fly-ball outs, but none was as potentially damaging as Hoiles' shot to Johnson.

"I didn't even know until the seventh inning," said Johnson. "I've been in three others, two in the minors and [Joe] Cowley's [for the White Sox in 1986 at California].

"I'm just pleased that he came up and pitched a no-no. He might as well quit now. You can't do any better than that."

Karkovice also caught Cowley's. "This was a lot prettier than his," he said. Cowley gave up a run in that 7-1 victory.

1991 no-hitters

Aug. 11: Wilson Alvarez, Chicago vs. Baltimore, 7-0.

July 28: x-Dennis Martinez, Montreal vs. Los Angeles, 2-0.

July 26: y-Mark Gardner, Montreal vs. Los Angeles, 0-1, 10 inn.

July 13: Bob Milacki, Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson and Gregg Olson, Baltimore vs. Oakland, 2-0.

May 23: Tommy Greene, Philadelphia vs. Montreal, 2-0.

May 1: Nolan Ryan, Texas vs. Toronto, 3-0.

x-perfect game.

y-Gardner allowed two hits in the 10th inning and was the losing pitcher in the Dodgers' 1-0 victory.

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